“I did not know then the subtext / of our story, that my father could imagine / Jefferson’s words made flesh in my flesh— / the improvement of the blacks in body / and mind, in the first instance of their mixture / with the whites—or that my father could believe / he’d made me better. When I think of this now, / I see how the past holds us captive, / its beautiful ruin etched on the mind’s eye:”
Natasha Trethewey is the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States. I jumped at the chance to print a broadside with my friend Kevin McFadden to honor her inauguration by the Library of Congress. Sponsored by the Virginia Quarterly Review, the broadside published a copy of her poem “Enlightenment,” an appropriate piece to be produced in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of Jefferson’s Monticello. Ms. Trethewey’s poem elaborates on the revelation she experienced upon visiting Jefferson’s home with her father. Ms. Trethewey comments upon learning about Jefferson’s relationship with enslaved Sally Hemings and the several children produced by their union. The poem is a direct recounting of the tragedy of the secretive handling of race in American culture. I am proud to be involved with publishing this poem, especially in a form that might eventually be sold in the Monticello gift shop. I proposed an image involving black hollyhocks in the Monticello garden against the background of a formal Monticello, but the flowers were nixed in preference of a quieter image. I prefer to handset type, but the client asked to use a version of Caslon with old style ligatures. This font was only available digitally, so the text was printed from a plate. The result is a beautiful impression, but it lacks that irregularity characteristic of foundry type.