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The Day The 19th U.S. Poet Laureate Told Me To Email Her

 Written by    February 21, 2013

I know I rant and rave all the time about how great Ohio State is because of the people who work and study here. But I’m not sure that I rant and rave enough about how great the people who we bring to Ohio State are. I’m going to correct that short-coming on my part right now.The 19th U.S. Poet Laureate (2012-2013), Natasha Trethewey, came to Thompson Library on Tuesday evening to read some of her poetry and talk about her latest book, Thrall. She’s also the current State Poet Laureate of Mississippi. This event was arguably THE COOLEST THING I HAVE EVER EVER EVER BEEN TO AT OHIO STATE.

As I’ve said in previous posts, this semester I’m taking a poetry class–my first!–and one of the requirements of the class is to attend a poetry reading/slam. At first I was thinking, Ummm…do I have to?  because in my head poetry readings are for super artsy people who snap instead of clapping and who boycott large corporations. But this assignment turned out to be one of the most awesome things I was ever assigned to do.The instructor, Anne, gave us a list of potential events to attend in the area, and this event happened to fit into my schedule. I also wanted to go because hearing the Poet Laureate of the United States is preeeeetty exciting, if you ask me, and this is coming from someone with a fairly limited working knowledge of poetry.

So, after Googling her and reading three or four of her poems, I went to the reading and thought I had a pretty clear idea of what to expect.

Mind = blown.

She didn’t read her poems like I thought poets read poems. She was so very normal. Her voice was very clear and precise and even when the poem was about something uncomfortable or scary (like one was about doctors learning about anatomy from studying dead bodies…ew), you still wanted to hear more. And the hour passed by so quickly that I thought, Hey, wait! Don’t be done yet! I want to hear more!

As for content: a lot of her poems are about race. She is of mixed race, so a lot of her poems explore that theme, its relation to identity, and these experiences throughout history. She really seems to be inspired by other forms of art as well, like paintings. Her father is also a poet, and the first poem she read, “Elegy,” was about him.

Please just do yourself a favor and Google her poems immediately. Anything I say about them can’t do them justice.

I never thought I would react to a poetry reading this way. Up until this point, I was only halfway sure that I even liked poetry. So although I didn’t have a book of hers for her to autograph, I got in line with those people  who did, and when I got to meet her, I just shook her hand, thanked her for coming to Ohio State, and told her what a wonderful experience the evening had been for me. Although there were many people in line behind me, we ended up chatting for several minutes.

She asked me lots of questions about my experiences in poetry, what got me to that reading, etc. I told her about how my dad had, in recent years, really gotten into writing poetry, and had just had one of his poems published, and one that was about to be published, and that’s kind of where my interest took off. I told her how he read T.S. Eliot poems at poetry slams in high school and he won some awards and so the first poems I ever read were those same poems, because of the T.S. Eliot books lying around the house. And she asked me questions about Dad’s poems, and about why I had chosen to take that poetry class, and just asked so many questions about me that I never thought a famous person would be even remotely interested in.

But then she said that it’s people like me, who come out to these events for the first time and who are inspired by it, who keep this art form alive and I just thought, Wow, she is giving me way too much credit here, but okay!

And THEN–get ready for it–


About nothing in particular, just about poetry and the evening in general, and whatever. No big deal, THE POET LAUREATE OF THE UNITED STATES ASKED ME TO EMAIL HER.

So as soon as I find her email address, I will. And as soon as I finish Thrall (which I went to Barnes and Noble and bought immediately after the reading was over), I’m going to give it to my dad.

Just another Tuesday at Ohio State, right?

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