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US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey holds poetry reading at AUS
Natasha Trethewey, the US Poet Laureate, recited a selection of her poems to a packed hall at American University of Sharjah (AUS) yesterday, April 22. She was accompanied on stage by Christopher Merrill, an award-winning poet, journalist and director of the prestigious International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
Reading from their work, both poets kept the audience spellbound. The event, which was organized in collaboration with the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, drew a full house and was live-streamed online. The reading was followed by an extensive Q&A session. It was attended by senior university officials, faculty members, students, members of the media as well as the public.
"The act of making the poem, the act of creation is happiness, pure happiness," said Trethewey answering a question on why her poetry at times seemed sad. "Poetry is the sacred language that allows us to truly hear each other," she added. Among other poems, Trethewey recited one of her well-known poems entitled "Myth," which she said took approximately five years to write.
Trethewey, who is the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States, is the author of four collections of poetry: Domestic Work (2000); Bellocq's Ophelia (2002); Native Guard (2006), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; and, most recently, Thrall (2012). Her book of non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, appeared in 2010. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She currently teaches at Emory University where she is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing.
In response to a question about the time it takes to compose a poem, Merrill said, "If it comes too easily, I don't trust it." He also spoke about the joy of completing a poem, and the sense of accomplishment one feels as soon as one is done writing. Among the selection of poems he recited, Merrill also included his English ghazal "There is No Sugar in the Promised Land," which is a reply and tribute to the late renowned Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali's "Land" poem. Ali was Merrill's close friend and one of Trethewey's mentors.
Merrill has published five collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; many edited volumes and books of translations; and five works of nonfiction. His latest prose book, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, chronicles his travels in Malaysia, China, Mongolia and the Middle East, in the wake of the war on terror. Merrill is a member of the National Council on the Humanities and the US National Commission for UNESCO and directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.