Do I deceive anyone?

Natasha Trethewey’s Letter Home is both tender and disheartened.  A young black (or at least biracial?) woman seeking a job in New Orleans in the early 1900s, she begins with a saddened account of her struggle to find work.  Although she is educated, she is still a “girl,” a “negress,” and she wears out her shoes looking and looking for more-than-menial-employment.  “Do I deceive anyone?” she asks. The poem turns from the account of her unsuccessful days to a reflection on who she is.  She sees laundresses working and feels closer to them than the white world she is trying to enter. She wonders whether or not her education truly has lifted her out of her situation, whether it could do so.

How does this poem move beyond confession? It is not a woe-is-me poem the way it could easily be; she is not focusing on her disadvantages or admitting to how she fits into this.  No, she is wondering whether or not she wants to enter this strange, unfamiliar world, even if she can.  The confession becomes a reevaluation of her motives, a conversation with herself.  The turn, which I thought occurred at the line “Do I deceive,” is toward herself.  She begins this letter to (presumably) her mother whilst facing her mother, but at the turn, it is as if she holds up a mirror so that she may still look at her mother, but also have perspective on herself.  The confession becomes more than validating herself to her audience, it changes from confession into self-review.

I consider it imperative for my poems to push beyond the everyday; as a personal standard, I want my poems to be multi-layered, I want my reader to have to work a little to get at them.  I think as we engage any kind of literature, we are seeking something beyond the actual words.  So why should a writer not deliver another layer?  We read as a method of seeking larger truths (whatever they are, whether we realize it or not), and I think it is the writer’s duty to deliver suggestions to those higher truths.

One Response to “Do I deceive anyone?”

  1. I definitely agree with what you had to say about the reflection of self. It was really interesting, the example you give where it is as if the author is holding up a mirror so that she can still look at her mother, but also see her own self. I’m finding a lot of the retrospective prospective move to self evaluation almost in the end, but don’t only skim the surface. They are definitely going beyond and trying to find those “higher truths” you suggested all writers to do. I think to make a really strong poem in this structure you need to go beyond or the point will be missed. It’s really important to delve into the intricacies instead of just ending and I love and welcome the idea of pushing beyond.

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