Poetry News

Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Poets

By Harriet Staff
Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith spoke with Erin Woo at The Stanford Daily about the role of poet laureate, and the "power of poetry to break down political and personal barriers." She also shares a little advice for young poets (we can all use a little advice, though, can't we):

TSD: Do you have any advice for aspiring young poets?

TKS: Everybody says, “read, read, read,” and I think it’s really true. That’s essential. But I think it’s also important to read against your taste, to read the things you don’t love, and see if you can learn how they’re built and what they achieve and whether those tools can be useful to you. And I’m also always urging my students to allow their poems to be a site for them to wrestle with the things that are actually urgent to them as people. Don’t just think that poems have to be about certain beautiful, noble things. Poems can be about what you’re burdened by in your actual life, or what your deepest questions are drawing toward. Even if you don’t have the answers to them, poems can be useful in that pursuit.

TSD: On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are a lot of people who write off poetry as a genre and are just very intimidated by it. What would you say to them?

TKS: I would say, forget everything you’ve been taught about trying to get to the ulterior motives of a poem and just listen to the words. Trust what they make you feel, what they make you remember, and what they remind you of. Those are going to be really useful avenues into an authentic encounter with a poem.

Another authentic encounter is right here.

Originally Published: November 7th, 2017