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4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,301 ratings  ·  188 reviews
The stunning follow-up volume to her 2007 Pulitzer Prize–winning Native Guard, by America’s new Poet Laureate

Natasha Trethewey’s poems are at once deeply personal and historical—exploring her own interracial and complicated roots—and utterly American, connecting them to ours. The daughter of a black mother and white father, a student of history and of the Deep South, she i
Hardcover, 84 pages
Published August 28th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  1,301 ratings  ·  188 reviews

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Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
When I see Frank's photograph
of a white infant in the dark arms
of a woman who must be the maid,
I think of my mother and the year
we spent alone - my father at sea.

Born to a black mother and a white father, Poet Laureate (2012-14) Natasha Trethewey's poems explore history through a personal and racial lens, while still managing to remain inclusive. How does it feel, to be the child of an interracial family, and most importantly, what does this mean when viewing the history of the American fabr
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The first half of Trethewey's earlier work, Native Guard, consists of poems about her mother. Here, about half of the poems are in some way about her father: their separations; their connections, through fishing, through story.

The other half, the ekphrastic poetry, reflects upon identity, in general terms and in particular ones, in relation to her father mostly, but also to her mother and of course herself.

There's the connection she sees between Help, 1968, a photograph by Walker Evans-influen
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Until I'm convinced otherwise, I think Natasha Trethewey is the greatest living poet in America. (This is my personal opinion, of course.) Her collection Native Guard was one of the top books I read in 2014 and certainly the best poetry collection I read. At the end of this year, I expect Thrall to be in the top as well.

Here, Trethewey examines personal history, race, and the colonial views of interracial relationships depicted in art. Trethewey was born to a black mother and white father and r
Maurice Ruffin
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
I purchased my copy when Ms. Trethewey read at the main New Orleans Public Library in December of 2012. I didn't buy the book simply because I was impressed by the way she read the collection (I was) or because of how cool it was to get a book signed by the current Poet Laureate of the United States (it was pretty cool). I got Thrall because I was intrigued by the conceit behind it: a "mixed race" person dissects the historical attitudes of western culture toward such people and, occasionally, u ...more
Steven Godin
Nov 07, 2020 rated it liked it


Like the moon that night, my father —
a distant body, white and luminous.
How small I was back then,
looking up as if from dark earth.

Distant, his body white and luminous,
my father stood in the doorway.
Looking up as if from dark earth,
I saw him outlined in a scrim of light.

My father stood in the doorway
as if to watch over me as I dreamed.
When I saw him outlined — a scrim of light —
he was already waning, turning to go.

Once, he watched over me as I dreamed.
How small I was. Back then,
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I don't have any ideas worth adding to the many good reviews of this book but I want to contribute something so i've attempted to do below what Cheryl said she wanted to do in her excellent and top-rated-as-of-Dec-5-2020 review. I hope you enjoy the final poem (i hope!) pretty much as it appears in print (turn your smartphone sideways).


Always   there is something more to know
    what lingers   at the edge of thought
awaiting illumination   as in
    this secondhand book   full
of annota
Sherry Chandler
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, thepoets
In her introduction to the 1996 edition of The Best American Poetry, Adrienne Rich said:

Given the extreme racialization of our social and imaginative life, it’s a peculiar kind of alienation that presumes race and racism (always linked to power) will haunt poets of “color” only. Like riches and poverty, like anti-Semitism, whiteness and color have a mythic life that uncontrollably infiltrates poetic language even when unnamed . . . The assumptions behind "white" identity in a violently racialize
Robert Beveridge
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone, really.
Natasha Trethewey, Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

Politicized poetry—and when I say “politicized”, I'm not just talking flat-out political poetry here, but also what one might call “the poetry of social consciousness”—is always a problematic thing. One hundred percent of the time. So much so that back when I was still a working poet and thus entitled in some small way to comment on such things and offer advice t
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been reading loads of poetry this month and this collection stands out as exceptional. Many ekphrastic poems alongside family poems, all dealing with race, interracial families and identity. Very well done, beautifully written and felt and conveyed.
Khara House
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In this slender collection of poems, Trethewey takes us backward and forward in time, establishing Thrall as a collection as much about past as it is about present---or rather, how the two are inextricably linked through history, through identity, and in discovering truth and self and meaning. The collection’s first poem, “Elegy,” reflects the poet’s longing---a sometimes ruthless longing---to make sense of and (re)discover the world.

As the child of a black woman and white man, Trethewey boldly
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetshere
concentration is a lone gull
circling what's thrown back. Debris
weights the trawl like stones.

I bought this new from the House of Bezos; I thought the purchase an homage to the poet, that a slight residual might make its way to her coffer, a gratuity for the joy she gives me routinely. My copy arrived yesterday in the post with a significant dent and wrinkle, as if it had been bent nearly in half. It felt oblong and awkward. This discomfort vanished as I read it this morning, as a dash of summe
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
The music, the insight, the merging of history and family with such painful, illuminating rigor, and in such compelling images--I loved everything about this collection.
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry-challenge
3.5 Stars
Apr 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
The opening poem, Elegy, for her father, is one of many powerful pieces in this collection.

How the Past Comes Back

Like a shadow across a stone,
gradually --
the name it darkens;

as one enters the world
through language --
like a child learning to speak
then naming
everything; as flower,

the neglected hydrangea
endlessly blossoming --
year after year
each bloom a blue refrain; as

the syllables of birdcall
coalescing in the trees,
a single word:

as the dead bird's bright signature --
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A radio interview I heard with the newest U.S. Poet Laureate caught my attention so I approached this slim book eagerly even though I am not a regular reader of poetry. In spite of my inexperience Natasha Trethewey’s poems often moved and in some cases captivated me. Many of the early poems in the book explore the historical contexts of Trethewey’s mixed race heritage by detailed and nuanced examinations of colonial era paintings with multi-race families, paintings that were designed to illustra ...more
J.D. Estrada
Some poetry makes you think, other makes you feel. This collection is an interesting project but it was often a challenge to see how I should read the poem. I love that to get the best feeling of some pieces you need to see the work of art it's inspired by, but I can't say I always resonated with the poems. I'm not sure if it's just that I didn't connect on this first read or if it's something that will always hover just beyond my grasp. It's not so much that I didn't get what Natasha was writin ...more
Thing Two
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Her poem "Enlightenment", about touring Thomas Jefferson's Monticello with her father, is priceless. ...more
Greg Bem
Dec 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A really gorgeous selection of poems, mostly ekphrastic. I wish that the book included the images that were referenced, but also part of the mystique is in their absence. And absence is a core theme of the book, which elevates the text.
Trethewey's poetry is so powerful. ...more
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Natasha Trethewey, the Timeless Poet

2007 Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey gifts us with this rather extraordinary collection of poems that explore relationships between parent and child in a marriage of two people from different cultures: Trethewey is the mixed race progeny of a white father (a poet) and a darker skinned Mexican mother. This platform provides a complex stage setting for discussions of heritage, depth of cultural bonds and influences, and a particularly fine examinat
Jan 05, 2013 rated it liked it
This is the third collection of poems I've read by Natasha Trethewey who is the current United States Poet Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize Winner and Poet Laureate of Mississippi. Thrall was a little slow going for me at the beginning unlike her prose and poetry work Beyond Katrina and the poetry collection Native Guard.

Thrall means "slave." The book's jacket is a reproduction of a casta painting. Casta is a word from the Iberian Peninsula and means "mixed race." Casta paintings were produced dur
D'Argo Agathon
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Thrall is stunning; the poems themselves, the theme and collection, the voice, the ekphrasis, the personal – everything just works with Trethewey’s latest book. In contrast to Domestic Work’s rigidness and telling-style, Thrall is alive within its ekphrastic constraint; even Native Guard, which I felt was fantastic, does not quite stand up to the completeness I feel when reading this collection. As a reader, I feel included and intimate with the speaker (something that was missing from DM), as w ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, reviewed
"Thrall" is marked by luxurious language, intensity of intellect, and troubling insight. It is a disturbingly gorgeous collection of poems that assaults cliches on race, family, history, personhood. The language is so sparse, it's like a stallion: sleek and muscular and instantly admirable. Some examples:

"mist at the banks like a net / settling around us"

"the boy's mother contorts, watchful / her neck twisting on its spine, red beads / yoked at her throat like a necklace of blood / her face so b
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
AMAZING!! Trethewey covers, with almost academic skill and depth, the depth and mazes not only of race in the Americas ( some of her most brilliant poems are set in Spanish colonies, addressing the Spanish "system" of classifying race and mixed race) but of personal emotional narratives as well. She also pulls from art history brilliantly throughout the collection, at one point describing the painting on the book's cover in a poem addressing the 'mestizo/a', the now-outdated term a mixed child b ...more
Konstantin R.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: j-adore, b-b-y, poetry, serious
[rating = A+]
One of my: Best Books of the Year (for 2019)
Wow. I was "enthralled" with this poetry collection. The blending of personal and historical narratives was amazing. Her personal life, being a daughter of bi-racial parents, works so well with the struggle for identity and voice for Mulattos or other racial "inbetweeners". She writes so effortlessly (or so it seems) about how her mother was mistaken for her maid and how her dad seemed to (sorta?) treat her like something to be studied or
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
About half of the poems are ekphrastic, looking at Western paintings that deal with race, particularly couples of mixed race or black servants or mothers with fairer children as a means at looking at attitudes of the world as well as how Tretheway’s own life with a black mother and white father are reflected. The title poem is about Juan de Pareja, the slave of Diego Velazquez who learned to paint from watching his master, but who wasn’t allowed to practice his art. He sold his own paintings aft ...more
Oct 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
These are the kinds of poems that I want to look away from because they see too much. (That's a compliment to the poems, an insult to my frailty.) ...more
I had been thinking about literature and Young Adult fiction when I picked up this book of poetry. Natasha Trethewey may enjoy reading YA. I do. She may even prefer it. But the brilliance of this book epitomizes what literature does beyond mere fiction—which, to repeat, I enjoy and respect.

After the lovely opening “Elegy,” each of her next eight or ten poems in Thrall starts with an explicit reference to something old. The poet’s knowledge is expansive, and she tempts us to pursue these rare det
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, bookshelf
The servant, still a child, cranes
his neck, turns his face
up toward all of them. He is dark
as history, origin of the word
native: the weight of blood,
a pale mistress on his back,
heavier every year.
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Natasha Trethewey is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in June 2012; she began her official duties in September. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

She is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, where she also directs the Creative Writi

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