cover image Monument: Poems New and Selected

Monument: Poems New and Selected

Natasha Trethewey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-1-328-50784-6

Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Trethewey (Thrall) culls some of the finest work from her illustrious two-decade career and presents formally diverse new poems exploring her customary themes. She dredges family history both dark and luminous, reliving the trauma of her mother’s murder by her stepfather, reiterating the details as if the outcome might be different. The brilliant, evocative “Genus Narcissus” turns sinister as the poet recalls giving her mother daffodils as a child only to watch them wither and die on the windowsill: “Be taken with yourself,/ they said to me; Die early, to my mother.” Trethewey also evocatively imagines her grandmother in 1940s Mississippi, writing “She can fill a room// with a loud clear alto, broom-dance/ right out the back door, her heavy footsteps// a parade beneath the stars.” The ekphrastic series “Bellocq’s Ophelia” voices a mixed-race prostitute from a famous 1912 photograph by E.J Bellocq as she sits for her portrait: “I try to recall what I was thinking—/ how not to be exposed, though naked, how/ to wear skin like a garment, seamless.” Trethewey’s arresting images, urgent tone, and surgically precise language meld with exacting use of rhyme and anaphora create an intensity that propels the poems forward. This collection is ideal for new readers seeking a representative sample of Trethewey’s best work. (Nov.)