Natasha Trethewey’s poem ‘Amateur Fighter’ appears in her poetry collection Domestic Work. This poem centers on a boxer’s life. Trethewey’s speaker describes it closely as she has seen how her father struggled throughout his life. It is like seeing a movie of a champion who not only mastered the pain in the ring but also learned the art of tolerance from his life. Pain and fighting are the main themes of this poem.
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‘Amateur Fighter’ by Natasha Trethewey describes the life of a boxer from his child’s perspective.
In this poem, Trethewey speaks from the perspective of a speaker who is the child of a boxer. She details how her father fought in his life. His life was the first inspiration to wear gloves and best out the anger from his heart. Somehow, life taught him the art of bearing pain and fighting back with string fists. There are some instances in this poem where the speaker becomes excited to recapitulate the struggle of her father. While in other instances, she becomes thoughtful to think about how her father held up his body to pain.
You can read the full poem here.
What’s left is the tiny gold glove
to that cold house and dinner alone
The poem ‘Amateur Fighter’ is addressed to the speaker’s father. It is about a speaker’s father who might have died in the ring while boxing. The speaker looks back and remembers a few episodes from her father’s life.
The first tercet begins with the use of irony. Trethewey’s speaker says only the keychain is left. Her father has died recently. The golden gloves hanging on the keychain remind her of her father. Besides, the term “gold” is symbolic of worldly glory that is transient like man’s life.
In the following lines, the speaker describes the life of her father. He took up boxing at an early age. It was a financial necessity as well as a personal one. Her father did not have a nice childhood. He would return home late and eat his food alone. There was none to comfort him when he was a kid. It infuriated his childish spirit. So, he went to the ring in order to flush out his anger.
in the dim kitchen. Perhaps he learned
weakening. Fighting, then, a way to live
According to the speaker, his father dined alone in the kitchen. To describe the scene, Trethewey uses visual imagery. In the following lines, the speaker has a glimpse of her father’s childhood. He was not treated well by his stepfather. So, he learned the art of boxing mentally at first hand. Then, he turned this anger into something more productive than fighting with his stepdad. He won a prize in a boxing match arranged at the Halifax gym.
Her father shifted to a different place in New Orleans afterward. There he took up reading as a hobby. The speaker describes his father’s reading habit. He was so invested in this hobby that the speaker thought he was a scholar. Alongside that, he never took off fighting both mentally and physically. According to the speaker, it was indeed a dangerous kind of living. Any tragic incident could happen with him. But, he carried on with what he was doing.
dangerously. He’d leave his front tooth out
of being a bullfighter. And at the gym
In this section of ‘Amateur Fighter’, Trethewey depicts the scene of the ring. Her speaker describes how her father posed after a match with his front tooth (meant for protection) out. The picture reminded her of the fact that her father’s life is all about suffering and loss. He suffered till the match ended. Besides, losing was part of a game that he accepted with an open heart.
In the next lines, Trethewey makes use of humor in order to relieve readers from sad emotions. The speaker remembers how one day her father swallowed a cockroach in a bar on a dare. This act is compared to a form of risk-taking. Besides, her father also dreamt of being a bullfighter if he failed as a boxer.
on Tchoupitoulas Street, he trained
holding his body up to pain.
In the last lines, Trethewey again delved into the story of the father. Her speaker vividly depicts her father’s struggle for making a living. It was not that the career as a boxer had taken away the gentle emotions from his heart. He trained hard. According to the speaker, though her father pounded his fists into a bag in fury, he was still gentle at heart.
The following lines take readers to a match where her father fought. He wore red headgear that hid his face. It made him appear as a different person to the speaker. The scene made her realize that her father was elsewhere, not the one who fought in the ring.
In the last line, Trethewey describes the way he digested each blow by holding him up to pain. This line gives a hint of his personal life. It was the same way he defended himself from life’s harsh blows. He bore the pain in his heart like the punching bag of the gym.
It is a free-verse lyric poem that is written from a first-person speaker’s point of view. It consists of eight tercets without having any specific rhyme scheme. There is no such metrical scheme as it is written in free verse. Trethewey internally connects the stanzas. It makes readers jump to the following sections quickly. This piece ends with a coda that contains an interesting idea. From the description of the speaker’s father, it seems that the poem is written in the form of a biographical sketch.
Trethewey uses the following literary devices in ‘Amateur Fighter’.
- Enjambment: This device is used throughout the poem. Trethewey uses it to create an unbreakable flow in the text
- Alliteration: It occurs in “gold glove”, “But/ before”, “stay away“, “dare, dreamt”, etc.
- Irony: The irony of this piece is present at the very beginning. Though the speaker’s father was a boxer, he could not fight till the end. Only the “tiny gold glove” is left.
- Metaphor: The phrase “that anger into a prize” contains a metaphor. Here, “anger” is described as an impetus for winning.
- Imagery: Trethewey makes use of visual imagery and organic imagery in this poem. She uses the latter to convey the speaker’s sad feelings.
The poem ‘Amateur Fighter’ was first published in Natasha Trethewey’s poetry collection Domestic Work. It was Trethewey’s first collection of poems. The book was published in 2000. It explores the lives of black people in the early 20th century living in the South. In this poem, Trethewey talks about a black man’s struggle for a living. He took up boxing in order to relieve him from personal trauma. Later, it became his career. In this piece, the speaker is the child of the boxer. She describes her father’s life from a different angle. Her words revolve around the pain her father endured, not the glorious side of his life.
You can also read more Natasha Trethewey poems.
Natasha Trethewey’s poem ‘Amateur Fighter’ is about a boxer’s life. It is spoken from his child’s perspective. She details how her father struggled in life and fought back. Boxing was a means to relieve his heart from pain.
The poem was first published in Natasha Trethewey’s first poetry collection Domestic Work in 2000. This collection is about the lives of black men and women living in the early 20th century.
The main themes of the poem center on childhood trauma, pain, suffering, boxing, and loss.
Readers who enjoyed reading Natasha Trethewey’s ‘Amateur Fighter,’ can also find the following poems interesting.
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