I found a poem, W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts.” It begins, “About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters . . .” And it goes on to describe the [Pieter Breugel] painting of Icarus. In the foreground, of course, there’s everything else: a ship, a horse scratching its behind on a tree. All those things. . . . But then at the very end of the poem — Icarus falling into the sea.
And what it made me realize is that my grief felt like that. It felt so deeply personal and so invisible to the rest of the world. The world was going on about its way while I was over there, this tiny individual suffering what seemed to me a huge loss, what was to me a huge loss. That poem showed me that I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. That’s what poetry can do for us — to remind us when we feel most alone, we are not at all.
I think of Heraclitus’s axiom [that] geography is fate. And being born to the particular geography of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, also at a particular historical moment. I can’t imagine that I could be anything but the thinker and poet that I am. Also, I think that about losing my mother. How different I might be had that singular tragedy not happened to me at 19.
I started out in graduate school to be a fiction writer. I thought I wanted to write short stories. I started writing poems at that point only because a friend of mine dared me to write a poem. And I took the dare because I was convinced that I couldn’t write a good poem. . . . And then it actually wasn’t so bad. And then I showed it to my fiction professor, who said, “Oh, Tasha. You’re a poet.”
It is a tremendous honor to be named poet laureate, but one that I find humbling as well, because it’s the kind of thing that makes me feel like — even as it’s been bestowed upon me — I must continue to live up to what it means. . . . Being the younger laureate in the age of social media is a new challenge. I still think of myself as a Luddite when it comes to social media. I’m not someone who is on Twitter. I’m not someone who is actively on Facebook. But I do think it would be interesting to find ways to use social media to get poetry out there to a larger audience.