Poetry News

Charles Simic Reviews New Tracy K. Smith

By Harriet Staff
Tracy K. Smith, Wade in the Water, cover

For the New York Times Book Review, Charles Simic discusses Tracy K. Smith and her new book Wade in the Water. In his review, Simic contextualizes Smith's latest book within her overall trajectory: "Tracy K. Smith’s previous collection of poems, 'Life on Mars,' was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. With an ambition and range unequaled among her contemporaries, that book more than realized the promise of two earlier, somewhat more uneven volumes, 'The Body’s Question' (2003) and 'Duende' (2007), both of which also contained some stunningly beautiful poems." From there: 

There has been quite a bit of good poetry written over the last 20 years in this country, and Smith — who since June 2017 has also served as the United States poet laureate — has produced among the most original of it. Expectations are high, in other words, for her new collection, “Wade in the Water.”

Smith was born in Falmouth, Mass., and grew up in Fairfield, Calif., a small city midway between San Francisco and Sacramento. She was the youngest of five children. Her father grew up in Alabama and escaped the segregated South by enlisting in the Air Force. Her mother was a seriously religious person who went to church regularly and read the Bible every day. After Smith’s father retired from the military, he went to work as an optical engineer on the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA, which after its launch in 1990 helped scientists pin down the age of the universe and discover the so-called dark energy that counters gravity and keeps galaxies from colliding.

Reading the poems in “Life on Mars” — with titles like “The Universe Is a House Party,” “Everything That Ever Was,” “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” “The Universe as Primal Scream” and so on — one can’t help being reminded of the father who spent years looking at the stars; in that light, his daughter’s book is both an extended conversation with him and an elegy. “Awe” was Emily Dickinson’s favorite word. She fretted about being a speck on a ball floating in darkness as much as the Smith of “Life on Mars” does. They both savor the thrill and terror of thinking about this mystery we are all in some way a part of, this mystery we call by different names without ever reducing the mystery, because it’s bigger than language and has no need of our words. 

Read more at NYT.

Originally Published: April 27th, 2018