Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Poet Underlines Needs of Murder Victims

Photo: Courtesy of the author/Natasha Trethewey and her brother Joe stand in front of Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island, Miss., circa 1999.

The daughter of an African-American mother and a white father, Natasha Trethewey often explores in her poetry her experiences growing up in Mississippi and Georgia

While not a "usual" Journey post, I was quite moved listening to this evocative poet speak about the special emotions and needs of those who suffer after murder of a loved one (both about her own experience and that of her step-brother - as they both lost the same mother in this horrific way - due to murder by their mutual father - Natasha's step-father). In such a compelling way, Natasha speaks of the great need and benefit to TELL and/or WRITE about the suffering - the guilt - the loss and the need to care for others who also lost this loved one/and or their own life as it was before the murder. And also the value of letter-writing - not just talking on the telephone or visiting with the prisoner.

Although some of this is about the book soon to be available on getting through the Katrina hurricanes, the part about the murder and how she and her step-brother stood by each other is quite fitting and certainly could be a "life-saver" for many if not most of us in "JOURNEY" concerning our own stories, the people we know in prison and the wounded loved ones in our lives.

Interview with Terry Groos, NPR dot org originally aired August 18, 2010 with repeat airing August 21, 2010

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey grew up in Gulfport, Miss., a coastal area that suffered some of the heaviest damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Though Natasha Trethewey no longer lives in Mississippi, much of her mother's extended family, including her younger brother, live along the Gulf Coast and have been struggling after the storm to recover what they lost (in more ways than one as these losses bring up more vividly OTHER LOSSES - such as the loss of mother to murder.)

On finding out her brother had been arrested

"It happened in the spring of 2007, but he didn't tell me about it then. He didn't tell me about it because that was the moment when happy things were going on in my life and he didn't want to ruin that. ... He didn't tell me until a year later when he was about to go to trial, and his lawyer told him that if he didn't call me and ask me to come down there and to speak on his behalf, then he might be in jail a very long time. I didn't let him know that I was upset [but when] I flew back the next day, and my husband picked me up at the airport ... I just started sobbing. And I asked him how I was going to live if my heart was in prison."

"I think I do feel a good measure of guilt. I've carried with me a lot of survivor's guilt ... and with my brother, I definitely feel that. You can come from the same household and yet have such dramatically different lives. ... I feel guilty that I couldn't protect him from it. When [our mother] died, because I was 7 years older than him, my brother began to look to me as kind of a surrogate mother. I was the one that he clung to in that way. And yet, I couldn't mother him in the way I wish I could have. When he was in prison, I think that was really so difficult."

On communicating with her brother while he was in prison

"One of my failures during that time was the kind of responses that I gave to him. My brother was writing to me, he would call and I would never miss a phone call. I'd do everything I could do be there, if he needed anything, I'd send it. Along with his girlfriend, I worked tirelessly calling and e-mailing the commissioner of prisons in Mississippi to get my brother released, to have him moved to the facility we wanted him to be in so he could be closer to family — all of that kind of legwork, I was willing to do. But what I never once did was write him a letter. Once it hit me, it felt like the worst betrayal ever. One of the first things I did when he was out was sit him down and apologize for it. Not once when he was there did he ask me to, and I know how that probably hurt him deeply, and I don't know why it didn't occur to me. It didn't occur to me at all."

Here's from another site about the lost mother:

I was jogging in the graveyard near my house one day, and there’s an old part where a lot of Confederate soldiers are buried. I’m one of those people who can’t not read every tombstone -- they scream at me for their names to be heard. I was thinking about that when I came home and planned to write about that. When I sat down to write “Graveyard Blues,” what I recalled was burying my mother. That was when I came to understand what was going on in my subconscious. I wrote the poem “Graveyard Blues,” and the final couplet has an image of me laying my head down on her stone. When I finished the poem, I thought the couplet made sense for what the poem was trying to get at.

from “Graveyard Blues”:

It rained the whole time we were laying her down;
Rained from church to grave when we put her down.
The suck of mud at our feet was a hollow sound
. . . .
The road going home was pocked with holes,
That home-going road is always full of holes;
Though we slow down, time’s wheel still rolls.

I wander now among names of the dead:
My mother’s name, stone pillow for my head.

That image is real because my mother does not have any kind of stone on her grave. That sort of hit me, the history that had not been properly memorialized, remembered, tended by someone native to her -- it was my mother’s history. She was just like those black soldiers. No monument existed, and in that way she was erased from the landscape...

Trethewey, in a new memoir, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, explains that both the identity and future are linked to how one remembers both place and people.

She says she continues to find comfort in her poems: "I think poetry's always a kind of faith. It is the kind that I have," Trethewey says. "It is what can offer solace and meaning but also ... allows me to understand these events."

Trethewey holds the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University. She received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Native Guard.

A small portion of the last part excerpted from Beyond Katrina by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright 2010 by Natasha Trethewey. Excerpted by permission of the University of Georgia Press. All rights reserved.

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