Natasha Trethewey on the necessity of poetry

January 14, 2014
In the new issue of the Virginia Review Quarterly, Natasha Trethewey defends the necessity of poetry. In the new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, Natasha Trethewey defends the necessity of poetry.

If you weren’t one of the lucky people to hear U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey speak at the Library of Congress in May, here’s the next best thing: The new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review features an essay based on her speech called “Necessary Utterance: On Poetry as a Cultural Force.”

Trethewey, who is now serving her second term as poet laureate, begins by noting, “Despair about the place of poetry in American culture is nothing new.” But then she goes on to mention all the various ways poetry still serves us well: “We return again when we need the language of a poem to help us commemorate the birth of a child, to celebrate a marriage, to speak to the beloved in heightened terms in order to convey the depths of our emotional attachment.”

What follows is an illuminating blend of autobiography, literary criticism and cultural analysis, with quotations from the work of Auden, Wislawa Szymborska, Lisel Mueller and others. (Happily, I hear that Trethewey is currently working on a memoir.)

The winter issue of VQR also contains a review essay by my friend and colleague Michael Dirda on “The Dream of the Great American Novel,” by Lawrence Buell (Harvard).

W. Ralph Eubanks, who became editor of VQR last year, tells me that the journal is about to launch a new Web site with a metered paywall (six articles a month for free;  fee required for additional access). Starting Jan. 28, the site will offer the contents of the current issue along with the journal’s archive of articles, short stories and poetry over the past 90 years.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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