the mournful perfectness of the triple rhyme


In her latest volume, Native Guard, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Natasha Trethewey finds a wormhole to the past through the Negro spiritual. Its sounds can be heard in nearly every poem in this taut, mournful book, elevating grief into song, turning the blues into something as sacred and fleshly as mud:

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.

The woman being buried is, one presumes, the poet’s mother, but Native Guard doesn’t have the whiff of the personal the way so much contemporary poetry does. Indeed, it hardly grieves in the conventional sense. Instead, it feels more like the ephemera that crowded the fiction of the late German novelist W.G. Sebald.

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