Thrall examines the deeply ingrained and often unexamined notions of racial difference across time and space. Through a consideration of historical documents and paintings, Natasha Trethewey—Pulitzer-prize winning author of Native Guard—highlights the contours and complexities of her relationship with her white father and the ongoing history of race in America.
The book opens with a gorgeous, understated poem about a fishing trip she and her father took years ago. That experience and their difficult relationship create an underlying tension that shapes the entire book ... Thrall is a powerful, beautifully crafted book, and Trethewey does a wonderful job of shifting from a personal perspective to a global view and back. She subtly challenges readers to confront their own attitudes about race, which so often go unexpressed and unexamined ... She also has the opportunity, as Thrall illustrates, to advance, in some measure, the national dialogue about race as she promotes the art of poetry.
What is remarkable about Trethewey’s approach to these issues is the emotional distance she maintains from the incredibly personal subject matter. She deals with what it means to be a biracial woman in Mississippi through filters and layers, which in the end deliver a more emotional punch than if she addressed her experiences directly ... Through these pieces of art, Trethewey couches her own, making her experience and wisdom transcend her time and her place ... Trethewey renders us to ourselves as well, showing how the search for identity of one woman can represent our American search for identity ... Her choices and distance are masterful. She employs no direct righteous indignation, lectures, blame, or self-pitying. Not here. Instead we are given art, like Williams, Hurston, and Villanueva before her, that shows us a specific situation, how difficult finding and maintaining one’s identity in a malicious environment can be ... American poetry is incredibly lucky to have her.
Trethewey’s poems are inextricably linked with her personal history. They explore attitudes toward race by looking at artistic works from the U.S. and Europe, some dating back to the 1400s. But in Trethewey’s vision, they are made strikingly contemporary ... This slim volume is filled with such vivid, gorgeously crafted imagery. Along with ruminations on actual portraits on canvas, Trethewey offers a vivid portrait of bits of her life.