Thrall

Natasha Trethewey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23 (96p) ISBN 978-0-547-57160-7
Trethewey made headlines and signaled a generational shift with her appointment this year as U.S. poet laureate. Already known for her 2007 Pulitzer Prize–winning Native Guard and for her articulate, deftly shaped, and sometimes research-driven poems about history and race, Trethewey in this fourth collection takes her familiar powers to non–U.S. turf, considering race, embodiment, guilt and liberation in paintings from Spain and Mexico. In one of the famous casta paintings illustrating Spanish colonial notions of race, a mulatto boy "is a palimpsest of paint—/ layers of color, history rendering him// that precise shade of in-between." Lightly rhymed pentameters about Diego Velázquez's painting "Kitchen Maid" pay homage to the scrutinized character: "she is the mortar/ and the pestle and rest in the mortar—still angled/ in its posture of use"; the patient title poem considers Juan de Pareja, a painter who started life as Velázquez's slave. When Trethewey turns her attention back to contemporary America, she looks at her own family: her late African-American mother and her white father, his life "showing me// how one life is bound to another, that hardship/ endures." Trethewey's ideas are not always original, but her searching treatments of her own family, and of people in paintings, show strength and care, and a sharp sense of line. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/20/2012
Release date: 08/01/2012
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Ebook - 96 pages - 978-0-547-84042-0
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