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The Places that Connect Us

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Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

The following is a guest post by Matt Blakley, programs support assistant at the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center.

If you told me when I first fell in love with poetry that one day I’d work at the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center, there’s no way I would’ve believed you. I probably still wouldn’t believe you, because somewhere in my continued shock and disbelief that I do work here I’m still that college sophomore fascinated (and a little bewildered) by the power of language.

Six years ago, I was an unlikely student of poetry. I was 20 years old and insecure about growing up in a small town in central Virginia, far from the academy. As an English major I enrolled in an “Intro to Poetry” class. I had no idea what a poem was, but I did know that I had a growing love for storytelling, image, and a sense of “place.” To cultivate these affinities, my professor lent me four poetry collections written by southern writers: among them, Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey and Country Music: Selected Early Poems by Charles Wright.Country Music by Charles Wright

And after reading and re-reading the books, I learned the places Trethewey and Wright came from—Mississippi and Tennessee, respectively—were vital sources of their writing. Poems like “At Dusk” and “Rural Route” helped me as a young reader acknowledge proudly that the place I come from helps define who I am.

I write this blog post in celebration of our 19th and 20th Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry. It’s an honor to work with them at the PLC and help them teach others what they taught me: that our personal geographies matter and, more importantly, they are what connect us.