Tracy K. Smith’s Catbird Seat

Tonight at 7 PM, Tracy K. Smith will take the stage for her inaugural reading as 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The event is sold out, but don’t fret: If you’re unable to attend in person, you can still attend virtually; this historic evening will be streamed live via Facebook and YouTube.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden will host the event, which kicks off the Library of Congress’ 2017-2018 literary season. First-ever National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman—we introduced her to you in July—will open the evening with an original poem written for the occasion.

While tonight’s reading officially marks the beginning of her laureateship, Tracy had the chance to visit her new office in the attic of the Jefferson Building last month. From this storied Catbird Seat, she read Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress,” which Bishop wrote from the very same perch during her time as Poet Laureate.

Please join us in welcoming and celebrating 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Tracy K. Smith, who now has her own view from the Catbird Seat.

View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress

Moving from left to left, the light
is heavy on the Dome, and coarse.
One small lunette turns it aside
and blankly stares off to the side
like a big white old wall-eyed horse.

On the east steps the Air Force Band
in uniforms of Air Force blue
is playing hard and loud, but—queer—
the music doesn’t quite come through.

It comes in snatches, dim then keen,
then mute, and yet there is no breeze.
The giant trees stand in between.
I think the trees must intervene,

catching the music in their leaves
like gold-dust, till each big leaf sags.
Unceasingly the little flags
feed their limp stripes into the air,
and the band’s efforts vanish there.

Great shades, edge over,
give the music room.
The gathered brasses want to go
boom—boom.

—Elizabeth Bishop

[Special thanks to Jonathan Galassi and Farrar, Straus & Giroux for granting us permission to feature Bishop’s poem here.]

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