Poetry News

Tracy K. Smith Reappointed for 2018–19 Term as U.S. Poet Laureate & Featured in Vogue

By Harriet Staff
Tracy K. Smith

It was announced yesterday that Tracy K. Smith will serve a second term as U.S. Poet Laureate, partly to "allow for long-term planning for [an] expanded rural outreach project." "My project as Poet Laureate has brought me into contact with rural communities in the South and Southwest," said Smith in response to the reappointment, "and not only do we recognize and have many things to say to each other, but talking about poems together allows us to access and share our feelings and bear witness to the experiences that shape our lives. I’m excited to pursue this project further over the next year." 

Writer Kaitlyn Greenidge talked to Smith for Vogue this month about the poet's new book, Wade in the Water (Graywolf, April), which "takes place in Geechee country, Georgia, in a ring shout—a religious ritual in which black Christians dance and shuffle in a circle, forming a rhythm and working into an ecstatic state of grace." More from Greenidge:

Smith’s poetry is an awakening itself. Her three previous collections, The Body’s QuestionDuendeLife on Mars (for which she won a Pulitzer Prize), and her 2015 memoir Ordinary Light explore the concepts of faith, dystopia, Afrofuturism, deep space, and David Bowie—an eclectic mix of references that reflect her upbringing in a family deeply connected to the black church and a father who worked as an electronics engineer on the Hubble Space Telescope. In all of her work, there is an exploration of loss, fueled by the death of her parents—her mother to cancer in 1994, as Smith was finishing college, and her father unexpectedly as she was working on Life on Mars. For all of her versatility and range, the 45-year-old poet, who directs the creative-writing program at Princeton University, had resisted exploring America’s tormented racial history. With Wade in the Water, she’s doing so from a powerful, and highly public platform: Last spring the Library of Congress appointed her poet laureate. “I had to say to myself, ‘I haven’t written enough about blackness, yet it’s part of my consciousness and my lived experience,’ ” she says. “I had to get over that anxiety of ‘I haven’t done this before.’ ”

Her office at Princeton is neat, decorated with a few family photos—Smith and her husband, Raphael Allison, a poetry scholar who also teaches at Princeton, live on campus with their eight-year-old daughter and twin boys, age four. “I see these families walking in public,” Smith says, “and it’s just a serene little thing. When we do that, it’s a tornado.” Her natural hair is pinned up in a bun, and she has bright, steady eyes and the open, interested face of a born listener. Poetry, she tells me, has been a way for her to “bring voice to the unsayable, the untranslatable.” And it has served that purpose since she was a girl...

Find the full feature at Vogue.

Originally Published: March 23rd, 2018