To make it right Vermeer painted then painted over
this scene a woman alone at a table - Natasha Tretheway, Repentance
In her poem, “Repentance,” Natasha Trethewey connects the subject and setting of a famous artwork with a long-ago argument she had with her father. Can she paint over the past, fix it? One of the most revered writers of our time, Trethewey’s gift is her meticulous examination of conflicted private memory and public history in search of resolution. From race and gender inequity to personal and societal tragedy, her fervent words underscore the importance of resilience and hope.
Growing up biracial in 1960s Mississippi, Trethewey’s birthday happens to fall on Confederate Memorial Day, an ironic yearly reminder that certainly inspires the confluence of personal and cultural experience in her work. Her words and memories are sharp and often unsettling – of small-town racial tensions; or a cross burning on her family’s front lawn; or most devastating, her mother’s murder at the hands of an abusive second husband – the event that compelled Trethewey to become a poet. And her well-researched histories follow suit – of Hurricane Katrina survivors; working class Depression-era women; or the atrocities suffered by black soldiers during the Civil War.
Trethewey’s new book of poetry, Monument, is a career-spanning collection of both new and selected works from her four previous books including Native Guard, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Even for readers new to poetry, her verse is remarkably accessible, with shining moments of clarity and catharsis. Where history hides darkness, Trethewey reveals the light. She does so in layers, careful to examine and preserve the old even as she lays down new color, new image. Focus, forgiveness, change. To make it right.
In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, Trethewey was twice appointed the United States Poet Laureate (2012, 2014) and served as the Poet Laureate for Mississippi. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.