Pilgrimages to Ship Island
For the last few years Professor Franke and his classes on Introduction to Poetry and World Literature have made pilgrimages to Ship Island following the imperative in Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard. In the opening poem, the poetic voice discusses “Theories of Time and Space” and sets forth the idea of pilgrimage as one of the major themes of the collection. Trethewey directs us to “head south on Mississippi 49”; “[f]ollow this to its natural conclusion”–“the pier at Gulfport”; and “board the boat for Ship Island.”
Our classes have followed these directions searching for inspiration, adventure and relaxation. Students then write about their journey in light of Trethewey’s poems about the Native Guard at Fort Massachusetts. We tour the fort, read some of Trethewey’s poems about the black regiment, and imagine history and her poetic inspiration. Students take before and after photos to document their experience. As the students board they have photographs taken of them, as Trethewey says, “who you were,” and then have other photos taken as they explore and return. These photos and other scraps and mementoes document the trip and capture the possible changes of self accompanying pilgrimage. Below are some photos from the last few years of pilgrimage.