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REVIEW-ESSAY LORIE WATKINS FULTON William CareyUniversity Breaking the Silence: Natasha Trethewey’s Beyond Katrina Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Natasha Trethewey. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010. 144 pp. $22.95 cloth. PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING POET NATASHA TRETHEWEY COMMEMORATES the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall with a text combining nonfiction prose, documentary poetry, and family photographs to create a stunningly personal narrative of the storm. In an interview with Danielle Blau, Trethewey likens Beyond Katrina to a “pilgrimage, a journey back to my childhood home,” and speaks of one poem in particular as a “love letter to the Gulf Coast, a praise song, a dirge, / invocation and benediction, a requiem” (“Liturgy,” Katrina 66). Trethewey makes clear that this poem, her “liturgy to the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” is more than a public offering “in the language of ceremony.” As she reflects, “when I look up the word liturgy, I find that in the original Greek it meant, simply, one’s public duty, service to the state undertaken by a citizen” (64). Trethewey takes up this duty by presenting the natural disaster as part of the larger narrative of the region’s history and the story of her family’s role in it. The result is a multi-dimensional reflection on home as it never existed. Fittingly, Trethewey’s text begins with an epigraph from Flannery O’Connor: “Whereyoucamefromisgone.Whereyouthoughtyouwere going to never was there. And where you are is no good unless you can get away from it” (vii). Unflinchingly honest, Trethewey admits that in “turning to survey the past, I did not expect to find what I did,” yet she also acknowledges that the “past can only be understood in the context of the present, overlapped as they are, one informing the other” (51). As Trethewey’s examination unfolds, all of her narratives—past, present, future, biographical, political, historical, ecological, and economic spin out from her cool, unclouded narrative eye, much like the bands of the 728 Lorie Watkins Fulton storm of which she writes. Through this resultant mix of genre and perspective, the surprising story that Trethewey discovers comes to turn on the nature of narrative itself. Trethewey divides the text into two larger chronological sections. The first section, “2007,” began as a series of lectures at the University of Virginia concerning recovery in the wake of Katrina. The initial section contains mostly prose, although it features three key poems at the opening, midpoint, and conclusion. Trethewey begins with “Theories of Time and Space,” a poem reprinted from Native Guard. In the prologue she notes that she initially wrote the poem to illustrate figuratively the impossibility of returning home, but “by August of 2005, the poem had become quite literal” (Katrina 2). The first prose section, “Pilgrim,” moves on to deal with Trethewey’s thoughts upon returning after the storm. Her observations, like so many others, conflate Katrina with Mississippi’s other “big” storm, Camille, and the section ends with another poem from Native Guard born of her memories of that earlier storm, “Providence.” The next prose section, “Before Katrina,” outlines the region’s history and Trethewey’s familial connection to it, and it ends with Trethewey’s literary monument, her poetic “Liturgy.” The remarkable perspective that Trethewey offers in “2007” results from an insider’s knowledge filtered through the distanced viewpoint of one who has lived away from home for many years. As Trethewey told Blau, “It hurt me to realize that even though I was from this place I wasn’t quite of it anymore.” However, that detachment allows Trethewey to penetrate the “preferred narrative” of the storm that she hears from so many who survived it. Trethewey writes of this phenomenon, “I know that a preferred narrative is one of the common bonds between people in a time of crisis. This is often the way collective, cultural memory works, full of omissions, partial remembering, and purposeful forgetting. People on both sides of a story look better in a version that leaves out certain things” (Katrina 20). This vision allows Trethewey to look beyond the official narrative of the storm that privileges New Orleans to examine the damaged...


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