Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rita Dove & Natasha Trethewey Connections

Earlier this week, it was announced that Natasha Trethewey is the new U.S. Poet Laureate. Some outlets have noted her relative youth. Journalists and commentators have also noted that Trethewey is the first African American since Rita Dove to receive the prominent position. There are a few other connections between Trethewey and Dove.

Both writers were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Dove won the prize in 1987 and was selected Poet Laureate 6 years later. Trethewey won the prize in 2007 and was selected Poet Laureate 5 years later. Thomas and Beulah, which won the Pulitzer, was Dove's third volume of poetry. Native Guard, which won the Pulitzer, was Trethewey's third volume of poetry.

In realms of African American poetry, Dove and Trethewey occupy related and overlapping locations. They are highly respected among literary poets, though they are less popular among spoken word poets, as Dove and Trethewey are not well known for "performing" poetry. Dove became a leading figure among African American poets sometimes viewed as alternatives to the ostensible politicized blackness expressed in the writings of figures such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and other poets associated with the Black Arts Movement. Trethewey's writings are often viewed as sharing a lineage with Dove's works.

Both poets have ties to writers, editors, and organizers associated with Callaloo and Cave Canem. Dove actually selected Trethewey's Domestic Work (2000) as the first Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet in 1999. Dove wrote the introduction to the work. Trethewey has primarily gained national prominence during the 21st century following the publication of Domestic Work; however, Dove provided an important boost to the view of Trethewey as a major 20th century poet by including her work in The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2011).

Based on the past poets selected, it seems unlikely for black poets to become U.S. Poet Laureates. However, if another African American was selected after Dove, it now appears that Trethewey was destined to be the one.   

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