Monday, April 16, 2007

Trethewey Wins Pulitzer + Tragedy at VTech + Poem: Natasha Trethewey

natasha tretheweyI am so elated to type these words: Natasha Trethewey has won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry!

She was honored for her brilliant recent volume, Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which appeared last year to great acclaim (and was a past J's Theater Book of the Month pick as well). Natasha was a member of the Dark Room Collective many years ago, and was one of the first winners of the book coverCave Canem Poetry Prize, for her début collection, Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000), and she later published She is also the fourth Black poet to win the Prize for poetry, following in the tradition of Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, and Yusef Komunyakaa. I've known her for almost a decade and a half, and can say without hesitation that she's a terrific, gracious person who really deserves this extraordinary honor. I am so happy for and proud of her! Congratulations, Natasha!

One of the two runners-up in the category was poet Martín Espada, another poet I know and think the world of. Martín was one of the earliest readers at the Dark Room's reading series, and has mentored and taught quite a few younger poets. Congrats to Martín as well.

Also, Eisa Davis, another fellow Cave Canem writer, was a finalist in the Drama category for her play "Bulrusher"! Congratulations, Eisa!

And other winners include Ornette Coleman in the Music category (no, you did not read that wrong--someone other than a classical music composer received the Pulitzer in music!--they must be fuming in quite a few university music departments), for his recording Sound Grammar; Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker, who often challenges the middling conventional wis-zards on Sunday talk shows, received the Pulitzer in Commentary; and John Coltrane was honored nearly 40 years after his death with a posthumous citation for his "his masterful improvisation, supreme musicianship and iconic centrality to the history of jazz." I only wish his wife, Alice, who died not long ago, had lived to see this day.

Finally, I must note that as was predicted by some in the media, Cormac McCarthy received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his most recent novel, The Road, which is the current pick of Oprah's Book Club. I haven't read it, but reader Kai did praise it strongly--at least up to its final scene (right, Kai?). I'll be getting to it one of these days soon.


I was busy with university business pretty much all day--we had on campus a very fine visiting poet, Josh Weiner, whom I'll write about soon--so I didn't get an opportunity to check the web or hear the full report from C on the horrific events that occurred today at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in Blacksburg, where a gunmen went on a rampage and killed more than 30 people, including students, faculty and staff members, then killed himself.

Since I know only some of the particulars of the incident, I won't expatiate on the crime itself, except to say that my heart goes out to the families of the dead and injured, and to the Virginia Tech campus as a whole. Such events sadden me tremendously. Some reports are suggesting that this is the worst shooting and worst university mass-murder of all time. It certainly has to be one of the worst instances of a mass killing in the US outside of a war battle zone, outstripped only by the 9/11 suicide bombings and the Oklahoma City massacre. Such a senseless, horrible crime is almost too awful to register, much like the daily accounts of slaughter that reach us from cities across Iraq and Afghanistan and Sudan, that we heard about in Rwanda, in East Timor, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Chechnya and Ingushetia....

When C and I lived in Virginia, we became aware of how easy it was and is to purchase guns there. I was and remain incredulous at the idea that anyone would need to purchase handguns right away, without a background check and waiting period, let alone 2 or 5 or 10 or 25 or 100 pistols and rifles and automatic rifles and machine guns and so on in one pop, unless she or he were outfitting a police force, or a military unit. Then, a few years ago, I believe that Virginia tightened its laws and limited the numbers of certain types of guns people could purchase per month, enraging a sizable number of fanatics, but I believe (though I could be wrong) that it's still the case that almost anyone can purchase an unlimited number of guns there at a gun show. Why? Again, what good can come from such a loophole?

As I said, my knowledge of the case is minimal, and I don't know where the murderer purchased his weaponry or why he went on this rampage, but given how easy it is to acquire guns in that state, and in particular, automatic weaponry, I wouldn't be surprised if after impulsively deciding that he was going to avenge some perceived hurt or humiliation he did some shopping there before his spree. Perhaps this will lead state legislators to tighten the laws further, but I'm not holding my breath. (There are already cries on the blogosphere that students, faculty and staff armed with concealed handguns could have prevented the crime. Personally, I find the prospect of anyone other than a policeperson walking around the university with weapons of any sort utterly terrifying.)

In the meantime, let's extend a moment of silence to those who were slain and to the survivors.


Back to a more positive note, here's a poem by Natasha Trethewey, from Native Guard:


You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion – dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp – buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry – tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph – who you were –
will be waiting when you return

"Theories of Time and Space" from Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. All rights reserved.

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