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Thrall: Poems Hardcover – August 28, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced Trethewey’s appointment as the 2012–13 U.S. Poet Laureate, he drew attention to the way her poems “dig beneath the surface of history,” both national and familial. In Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Native Guard (2006), this historical excavation takes the form of a figurative uprooting of Southern Agrarian poets, like Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren, while honoring her own maternal heritage. In Thrall, Trethewey examines the conflicting feelings of resentment and gratitude a biracial woman harbors toward her white father. In poems that again exhibit her gift for finding in microcosmic form the specter of societal relations, Trethewey makes explicit historically ignored ideas that underlie (a very literal) enlightenment. By focusing on the artistically talented slave of the painter Diego Velázquez, rather than the famous master, or by unpacking the strange taxonomies of skin tone in colonial Mexico, Trethewey continues important work toward internalizing and making tangible for today’s readers large swaths of racial legacy. This latest collection appears just as Trethewey begins her tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate. --Diego Báez

Review

"Utterly elegant." —Elle Magazine
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (August 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547571607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547571607
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #643,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
...actually, 20 years after it was first made. A standard aphorism in the publishing industry is that more people write poetry than read it. Poetry is a hard sell. And I must admit, I've read very little, since those obligatory college courses where I was busy sorting out "iambic pentameter," and such. I knew what it meant for the test, but it has been `Greek' to me ever since. So, when this selection appeared on my Vine offerings, I saw a chance to partially remediate one more character flaw.

Natasha Trethewey was appointed to the position of US Poet Laureate in June, 2012, and will soon take up residency in Washington, DC. The position has been previously held by such poets as Robert Lowell, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Frost, and James Dickey (to prove you don't have to be a "Bob."). The selection of Trethewey's work contained in this volume in quite short, but it is richer than a chocolate (as it were) soufflé in terms of the density of thought, and feeling, expressed uniquely and succinctly. And the subject matter is topical: a historical look at the relationship between the races, often on the most intimate basis. Certain of her poems carefully examine the depiction of race by certain artists, particularly Spanish ones. The cover has been aptly chosen to convey this: it is Juan Rodriguez Juarez's "Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo." Tretheway says that the look in the woman's eye is conveying: "see what we have created." Trethewey is currently a professor at Emory, in Atlanta, but her interest in this subject is not exclusively academic. Her father is white, her mother was black (she was killed by her second husband).
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The theme of racial mixing throughout this collection of poems works when the poet describes her own personal, intimate contact with this defining characteristic of her identity. When I think it comes across as a bit heavy-handed is when she describes the bigger historical picture. I much prefer her personal poems here than her historical ones. For example, I love the poem "Mano Prieta" when she describes a random encounter of her parents (one white, one "colored") captured in a photograph. This is her personal history and she expresses it in a lovely way. While the historical and cultural themes are interesting throughout the book, they ocassionally become a bit obvious and one has to ask, Why is this poetry special? Why isn't this simply a cultural essay? I'm on the fence about whether or not to explore this poet's works in more detail, but given the powerful personal poetry, I just may.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Natasha Tretheway is a poet with a gift for language and form and image, and a set of built-in subject matter. Here, as previously, she explores how history affects her biracial self and her white father (also a poet). The volume starts out with a lovely elegy to the father, who is not yet dead. Tretheway is a better fisher than her father - which may be her way of letting him know she is a better poet too.

These are not conventional lyrical or meditative poems. Tretheway is definitely not of the "I stand here ironing and think of my mother" school of conventional prose stuff that is so popular now. Neither is she merely up to linguistic tricks. She mostly uses long-phrased stanzas, broken up into sets of short lines (though a few of the poems are set in conventional even-length lines).

If you are expecting the usual set of poetic concerns, look elsewhere. These poems all explore concerns related to biraciality, thrall (in its widest sense as involuntary condition). What is Tretheway thrall to? What is her father thrall to? How do they both view Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemmings?

There are also some ekphrastic poems, related to paintings of black artists or other racially-related mythologies. You might think that ekphrastic poems can't be effective unless you know or can look at the related picture. Tretheway shows this isn't always true; her descriptions and meditations bring the pictures adequately to mind. Besides, the issue isn't what the picture looks like, but what it inspires in the poet.

Warning: if you prefer conventional poems whose meaning is apparent on a single reading, look elsewhere. These poems explode in your mind, but slowly.
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By Eyesis on December 2, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Natasha Tretheway leaves herself threadbare in this book of deep insightful and at sometime heart rending poems and leaves you, the reader, breathless and feeling like you truly understand her....and wanting to get to know her more!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
2007 Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey gifts us with this rather extraordinary collection of poems that explore relationships between parent and child in a marriage of two people from different cultures: Trethewey is the mixed race progeny of a white father (a poet) and a darker skinned Mexican mother. This platform provides a complex stage setting for discussions of heritage, depth of cultural bonds and influences, and a particularly fine examination of differences between peoples from different vantages. And she manages to do all of this with elegant writings about art - especially colonial Mexican art - and other aspects that bring us to a closer understanding of others.

Though her poems benefit from the gentle manner in which she places her words on a page, such placement is restricted by the format of a reviewer's note. But the only way to truly appreciate just how wondrous is the poetry of Natasha Trethewey is to quote some of her work:

Torna atrás

The unknown artist has rendered the father a painter and so
we see him at this work: painting a portrait of his wife -
their dark child watching nearby, a servant grinding colors
in the corner. The woman poses just beyond his canvas
and cannot see her likeness, her less than mirror image
coming to life beneath his hand. He has rendered her
homely, so unlike the woman we see in this scene, dressed
in late-century fashion, a `chicqueador' - mark of beauty
in the shape of a crescent moon - affixed to her temple.
If I say his painting is unfinished, that he has yet to make her
beautiful, to match the elegant sweep of her hair,
the graceful tilt of her head, has yet to adorn her dress
with lace and trim, it is only one way to see it.
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