From 2004 to 2006, I produced videos for the online scholarly journal Southern Spaces. The journal’s editor Allen Tullos developed a special kind of video content for the site: poets reading their work at the locations in which their poems are set. Words remain the foundation, but images and sounds can add new resonance and connections. I helped Allen produce a few of these videos, and, in the past couple years, my friend Matt Miller has done a great job of expanding the project.
The most special “Poets in Place” performance I helped produce was for Natasha Trethewey’s “Elegy for the Native Guards.” We met Natasha in Gulfport, Mississippi (her hometown) and traveled with her to Ship Island, where the Civil War-era Fort Massachusetts is located. This fort was home to the Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first African-American combat units to fight in the Civil War. As we winded down our shooting with Natasha, a group of African-American Civil War re-enactors arrived on the island via the ferry boat. It was almost as if Natasha’s poem had conjured up the Native Guard soldiers.
A couple months after we shot the video, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Ship Island suffered major damage. The eastern part of the island was totally submerged, and the boardwalk, pier and visitor’s center next to the fort were destroyed.