Edited Review to follow
AMAZING!! Trethewey covers, with academic skill and depth, the depth and mazes not only of race in the Americas ( some of her most brilliant poems are set in Spanish colonies, addressing the Spanish "system" of classifying race and mixed race) but of personal emotional narratives as well. She also pulls from art history brilliantly throughout the collection, at one point describing the painting on the book's cover in a poem addressing the 'mestizo/a', the now-outdated term a mixed child born to a Caucasian (Spaniard) father and a mother of colour. (She also addresses the 'mulatto/a".)
Not only are her poems---in their half-stark, half -substantive and meaningful diction--- truly remarkable on their own; but the fact that her words address race and colour and history in such a perfect, deep, spot-on, and meaningful way, make them simply superb. In both subject and substance ( and especially in her brilliant, fluid marriage of the two), these poems are a masterpiece.
How this poet must have studied! Everything! Not only is she a writer, she delves into Art History authoritatively and uses it in her poems ( from the stance of one half-turned figure to the description of the way the mixed child turns in his mother's arms to the look and smile on the mother!s face) Trethewey not so much *uses* as weaves her clear understanding of art analysis to make her poems true masterpieces.
The fact that a poet (like Trethewey herself) is mixed obviously doesn't always mean that s/he innately understands every aspect of colourism. But Trethewey has dedicated her life to the intellectual and social study of almost everything, especially the social and political implications of race. She uses not only her personal experiences and emotions but also this formidable intellect to create one of the greatest collections on race, history, and personal narrative of the century. (No joke).
Everyone needs to read this collection and its nuances of race, culture, and colour.
Trethewey also writes about her own emotions; not to be missed is "Elegy", about a fishing trip with her father and in which she reflects on being his daughter and being a poet, and the sometimes uncomfortable intersection of the two.
This is possibly one of the best and substantive book of poems I have ever read. Trethewey not only needs to stay US Poet Laureate; she needs to win a Nobel.