Natasha Trethewey, 46, an English and creative writing professor at Emory University in Atlanta, will be named the 19th poet laureate Thursday. She is also Mississippi’s top poet and will be the first person to serve simultaneously as a state and U.S. laureate.
Trethewey won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her poetry book, Native Guard. She wrote of the Louisiana Native Guard, a black Civil War regiment assigned to guard white Confederate soldiers held on Ship Island off Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
The Confederate prisoners were later memorialized on the island, but not the black Union soldiers.
A stanza reads:
“Some names shall deck the page of history
“as it is written on stone. Some will not.”
Librarian of Congress James Billington, who chose Trethewey after hearing her read at the National Book Festival in Washington, said her work explores forgotten history and the many human tragedies of the Civil War.
“She’s taking us into history that was never written,” he told the Associated Press. “She takes the greatest human tragedy in American history — the Civil War, 650,000 people killed, the most destructive war of human life for a century — and she takes us inside without preaching.”
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Poetry lovers will have to wait until Thursday night to learn who has won the $130,000 international and Canadian Griffin poetry prizes. At the sold out poetry readings at Koerner Hall in Toronto Wednesday night for the four international and three Canadian poets, the evening belonged to Seamus Heaney the winner of the 2012 Lifetime Recognition Award.
The crowd roared and responded with a long standing ovation when Griffin trustee Robin Robertson welcomed the 1995 Nobel Prize winning Irish poet to the stage. Referring to Mr. Heaney as “our greatest living poet, he described him as a man of “open-handed generosity” and “a craftsman” who had “never fallen out of love with words and what you can do with them.” Mr. Heaney who is the author of several volumes of poetry including Field Work, Sweeney Astray Electric Light, District and Circle and Human Chain, which was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize last year, is also an essayist and translator.
Instituted in 2006, the lifetime achievement prize, which has no dollar value attached to it, is supposed to be awarded occasionally, but so far it has become an annual and much heralded event, honouring the work and achievements of internationally recognized poets, including Adrienne Rich of the United States (2010), Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden ( 2007 ) and Hans Magnus Enzensberger of Germany (2009).
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