cover image The House of Being

The House of Being

Natasha Trethewey. Yale Univ, $18 (96p) ISBN 978-0-300-26592-7

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Trethewey (Memorial Drive) muses about her development as a writer in this candid meditation, originally delivered as the 2022 Windham-Campbell Lecture at Yale. Crediting the women in her family for equipping her with the skills to become a poet, Trethewey suggests that watching her grandmother’s precision while sewing curtains for her drapery business taught Trethewey to value exactitude in her own work. Trethewey’s mother’s practice of singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” whenever she and Trethewey passed stars-and-bars state flags taught Trethewey the power of symbolism in resisting the indignities of growing up Black in civil rights era Mississippi, as well as “how to use received forms to challenge... dominant cultural narrative[s].” Trethewey also discusses how she became serious about writing poetry while struggling to cope with her grief over the death of her mother, who was murdered by her abusive second husband when Trethewey was in her late teens. Discussions of how literature serves as “a container for the vanished past” come together in a deeply moving dénouement, in which Trethewey recalls the moment she realized she had been writing poems highlighting the overlooked contributions of Black Union soldiers to distract herself from grappling with her responsibility to carry on the memory of her mother, whose grave Trethewey had neglected to buy a headstone for until years after her death. Searching and intimate, this impresses. Photos. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Massie & McQuilkin. (Apr.)