In her poem "Miscegenation," from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Native Guard," U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey says the state of Mississippi declared her the product of an illegal marriage. The daughter of a black mother and white father, Trethewey was born in 1966, a year before Mississippi struck down its anti-miscegenation laws: "They crossed the river into Cincinnati, a city whose name/begins with a sound like sin, the sound of wrong — mis in Mississippi." In 2012, Mississippi named Trethewey its state poet laureate.
If race relations are a common thread in Trethewey's five collections of poetry, so is the confluence of public history and personal memory, specifically involving her poet father. She will touch on these themes during her appearances at the 10th annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival in Delray Beach, says Miles Coon, founder of the long-running event.
"I think of it as a great narrative arc, as opposed to irony, that she is now the state's designated poet laureate, that someone with tremendous talent and love of poetry can turn her humble beginnings into something big," Coon says.
In all, eight mid- and late-career poets will join Trethewey at Delray Beach Center for the Arts for the literary gathering running Jan. 20-Jan. 25. The festival will feature evening readings, workshops and craft talks. Other poets include the Massachusetts-born Nick Flynn ("The Reenactments"); Carolyn Forché, editor of the new poetry anthology "Against Forgetting," composed of works by poets who endured exile, state censorship and imprisonment; and Laure-Anne Bosselaar, who will present a tribute to her late husband, poet Kurt Brown, during an opening reception at 5 p.m. Monday.
Coon says the festival, which weathered the recession to become a reputable stop for poetry lovers, has collected grants from Visit Florida and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County in recent months. He says the festival also sold out its group workshops months in advance, but the main draws are 2 p.m. daily craft talks and the evening poetry readings. Trethewey will appear at 4 p.m. Tuesday for an interview with author Chard deNiord, and again 8 p.m. Wednesday to read selections from her most-recent collection, 2012's "Thrall."
The subject of Natasha’s father is well-tread territory in "Thrawl," which contains an elegy for her still-alive dad, couched in the memory of the two fly-fishing in the South. “I tried to take it all in, record it/for an elegy I’d write — one day — /when the time came. Your daughter,/I was that ruthless,” she writes of their complex relationship.
"There are aspects of anger and disappointment and alienation," Coon says of the poem. "When his fishing line comes up empty, it comes up tangled with hers. It’s like her father is competing with her."
The Palm Beach Poetry Festival will run Monday, Jan. 20, through Saturday, Jan. 25, at Delray Beach Center for the Arts, 51 N. Swinton Ave. Single-event tickets for workshops and poetry readings cost $10-$15. Call 561-243-7922, ext. 1, or go to PalmBeachPoetryFestival.org.