Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate

Tracy K Smith
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Fellow poets, today, the featured poem from the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series is Tracy K. Smith’s “Watershed”. One of my favorite parts of the series is the “About This Poem” section where the poet confesses their inspiration for the poem in question. Of ‘Watershed”, Smith says:

‘Watershed’ is a found poem drawn from two sources: a New York Times Magazine January 6, 2016, article by Nathaniel Rich entitled, ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,’ and excerpts of the narratives of survivors of near-death experiences as catalogued on www.nderf.org.”

The Poem-A-Day series consistently inspires my own adventures in poetry as it exposes me to new techniques and perspectives. I have typically been slightly distrustful of found poems, but to look at them from Smith’s perspective is unique and exciting! Why not construct a found poem using pieces from several sources?

I went away this past week and when I came back, I was surprised to find a handful of news headlines announcing the selection of a new U.S. Poet Laureate. Not that I didn’t believe it, but I was intrigued. As far as I know, Juan Felipe Herrera recently entered his second term as Poet Laureate. I’ve been learning more about the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, but one thing I haven’t specifically looked at is the actual term of appointment. I knew Poets Laureate were appointed for one to two years, but I wasn’t clear on when the appointment officially began. I haven’t been able to find an official start date, but the Librarian of Congress’ article announcing Smith’s selection says, “Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium.”

On Wednesday June 14th, several outlets published articles announcing Tracy K. Smith’s selection as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The Academy of American Poets published a brief article. Dana Isokawa the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine published an online exclusive about Smith’s selection. Camila Domonoske published an article for NPR entitled “Tracy K. Smith, New U.S. Poet Laureate, Calls Poems Her ‘Anchor’. Several more outlets picked up the stories around the country.

I always return to The Academy of American Poets and The Poetry Foundation as my primary sources for all things poetry. The Academy’s resources on Smith consist of a biography, two articles Smith wrote, two additional articles written about her, and three of her poems including “Duende”. The Poetry Foundation has archived ten of Smith’s poems, a biography, and a four minute video from PBS’s NewsHour Poetry Series.

Reading through Smith’s bio, she is an excellent choice to succeed the current Poet Laureate. Among her honors, she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and is currently a professor at Princeton University leading their Creative Writing program. Additionally, Smith wrote a short article for the New York Times’ “Does Poetry Matter?” series entitled “Wipe that Smirk Off Your Poem”. Yesterday the Academy of American Poets published a quick interview with Smith entitled “Four Questions for U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith”. The Poetry Foundation recently featured the newly selected U.S. Poet Laureate’s poem “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” in an e-mail. She wrote the poem in 2011 ruminating on David Bowie and published it in Life on Mars through Graywolf Press. One final piece I would like to highlight is Renee H. Shea’s article “Far From Ordinary: A Profile of Tracy K. Smith” from the March/April 2015 Poets & Writers Magazine.

Considering her diverse background and the eclectic nature of past Poet Laureate projects, I am excited to see what Smith comes up with for her project.

Keep writing!

Cheers,

Bryan