Distinguished poet visits USF

The key to containing emotion when writing about highly personal topics often lies in the “elegant envelopes of form,” Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey told an audience in the Alumni Center on Thursday night.

“I find that adhering to form is the only way to add the level of restraint that I need to write about those subjects,” she said.

Trethewey received the 2007 Pulitzer for poetry for her third and most recent collection, Native Guard, which is about black Union soldiers who guarded a fort off the coast of Mississippi during the Civil War. A Mississippi native, Tretheway holds the distinguished chair professor of poetry position at Emory University in Georgia.

She read poems from her published collections as well as unpublished works that will be included in her upcoming collection, tentatively titled Thrall.

Trethewey said most of her poetry aims at uncovering buried or lesser-known histories, so it sometimes take years to craft.

“There are so many angles to come at (history), but there’s always one question that I’m answering,” she said. “There are few poems birthed fully-formed from the muse.”

Many of her poems have historical themes, such as those about E.G. Belocq’s photographs of New Orleans’ prostitutes of the early 20th century and Hurricane Katrina. Others documented deeply personal matters, such as the early death of her mother and growing up biracial in the Deep South.

USF English Department chair and professor of poetry Hunt Hawkins called Trethewey’s work a masterful balance of the emotional, personal, the political and the historical that surpasses the subject matter of other formal poetry, which is often “quite boring.”

The event was organized by the USF Humanities Institute, the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Program and the departments of women’s studies and English.