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Native Guard: Poems Hardcover – 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Trethewey (Domestic Work) draws on the life of her deceased mother and on the history of Mississippi, where the poet and her mother's family grew up, to limn a multiracial South and her own multiracial heritage. One poem tries to preserve her mother's memory ("certain the sounds I make/ are enough to call someone home"); the title poem's set of linked sonnets, where the last line of each one becomes the first line of the next, presents black Union soldiers who "keep/ white men as prisoners—rebel soldiers,/ would-be masters." A pantoun remembers the night Trethewey's family discovered a burning cross on her lawn; the concluding poem condenses the poet's mixed—and compelling—feelings about "Mississippi, state that made a crime// of me—mulatto, half-breed, native—/ in my native land, this place they'll bury me." (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Trethewey's exacting and resonant poetry is rooted in the shadow side of American history. In her first two collections, she empathically dramatizes the lives of women of color. Here she enters the arena of war and unveils a harrowing betrayal. In commanding, bayonet-sharp lyrics, Trethewey matches states of mind with states of nature and rigorously distills fact and feeling into loaded phrases and philosophical metaphors as she tells the terrible story of the Native Guard. Newly freed from slavery, the men were mustered in 1862 in Louisiana to become the first Union army regiment of black soldiers. But the courageous black troops who fell in combat were left unburied, and the black soldiers who continued fighting with valor and conviction were fired upon by their white comrades. Moving from grim historical events to personal history, Trethewey tells the story of a white man and a black woman who marry, even though their union is illegal in their home state of Mississippi. There a daughter is born, a poet in the making, profoundly attuned to the tragedies of racial strife. Donna Seaman
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