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Native Guard: Poems Hardcover – 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 2006
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The Daughter of Union County
To save his heritage, he hides his daughter’s true identity—but he can’t protect her forever. Learn More
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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 51 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1st edition (2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618604634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618604630
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jan E. Vanstavern on May 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best new poetry books I've read in years: from the haunting and surprising poems of elegy to the author's mother, in the opening section (including a hymn!) to the middle section's integration of Southern history with personal fact, to the striking end section's reflections on personal history, race, and the impact of being biracial in the South--this is an intricate, accessible, beautiful book. And, the range of forms and subtle but powerful techniques the author uses make this the most unified varied body of work since, maybe, the Beatles made the White Album.
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Format: Paperback
I recommend this book to middle and high school teachers of Lit and History -- a unique approach to history that will grab some kids otherwise just sitting, and a very accessible type of poetry for lit analysis and discussion. Select poems, and parts of poems as you see fit for your audience, but I found it a very good collection for a teacher -- and a a very thought-provoking read.
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Format: Paperback
Forget the racial and ethnic tags--this is simply a fine book of poems.

Too many poets writing about themselves and their lives end up writing poems that mean something only to themselves. Natasha Trethewey isn't one of these poets. Though many of the poems in NATIVE GUARD grew out of the personal tragedy of her mother's murder, the poems aren't written in secret code, relying on private and indecipherable metaphor. Trethewey's poems are meaningful AND accessible--how many poems can you say that about?

The real trick to writing poetry today is to make what is personal (nearly every poet's subject) meaningful to readers who aren't you (and I don't mean critics). Trethewey does this through concrete imagery, precise diction, and sound--as in solid-- structure. You won't find the common abstractions that are supposed to leave you in awe--Tretheway's poems are easy to understand--on one level. When you return to them, though, they continue to reward you as you realize just how well crafted they are and how deep meaning runs.

She is a fine poet, and this collection is one of my favorites.
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Format: Paperback
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey is filled with poems about American History and Natasha Tretheway's personal history. I asked myself this question. Is it possible to separate myself from history larger than life or is it a part of my smaller world? Ms. Tretheway gives a quote spoken by Frederick Douglass. "If this war is to be forgotten, I ask in the name of all things sacred what shall men remember?" I think my question has been answered by an ancestor who is still alive in my soul every time I read The Narrative of Frederick Douglass.

Other poems in the book seem to be weaved of red silk ribbon. So that in this landscape of poetry I will not lose my way. These poems are braids of love and hate, beauty and ugliness. These words are woven as tightly as a rag rug of different textures and shape. I did not count the number of times Natasha Tretheway wrote about photographs. She remembers the Civil war by looking at a picture. "Some send photographs - a likeness in case/ the body can't return." Here is another piece of American History in a photograph. "From the arch, / from every corner of the photograph, flags wave down, and great bales of cotton rise up from the ground./ I wonder if Natasha Trethewey might have used a photograph as another name for memory. Our mental memories are never snatched from our hands by another person. These memories can not become torn up by a jealous man or woman. I have heard when death approaches our past, the photos in our mind, moments we lived each day become more distinct than any present time. I like knowing my past will come to revisit me again during those last hours on earth before death proves itself the winner of my spirit. "Death stops the body's work; the soul's a journeyman.
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Format: Hardcover
Weighted with temperament and the presence of graveyards, Trethewey paints vivid images of a past aware of its own history and the death of loved ones:

"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.

I wander now among names of the dead.
My mother's name, stone pillow for my head."
(Graveyard Blues)

Finding portents in simple childhood acts, the more mature poet replays such impulses in a new light:

"how they'd dry like graveside flowers, rustling
when the wind blew- a whisper, treacherous,
from the sill. Be taken with yourself,

they said to me: Die early, to my mother."
(Genus Narcissus)

Bi-racial, the poet blends the spirit of her parents with the inevitability of their destinies and the legacy to their child:

"Already the words are changing. She is changing
from colored to negro, black still years ahead.
This is 1966- she is married to a white man-
And there are more names for what grows inside her."
(My Mother Dreams Another Country)

Recounting the discoveries of childhood with a history in the south- war and miscegenation- I am struck by the poet's embrace of time and place, the troubled years of war and the ubiquitous presence of race in daily life; yet she instinctively draws beauty where there is none, an intimate awareness of her parentage and position in a black and white world she treads so intuitively. There is much to be learned simply by listening to Trethewey's words, caught in the magic of her introspective nature. Luan Gaines/ 2007.
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