Introducing Our New Poet Laureate: Online Edition

Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith visits the Poetry and Literature Center, May 22, 2017. Photo by Shawn Miller.

It’s been a full week since Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced Tracy K. Smith as the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. As you can imagine, our new Laureate has been keeping herself busy: After the announcement, dozens of interviews and articles have appeared about her appointment, her view of the Laureateship, and her approach to poetry. The best place to begin learning more about Tracy K. Smith is, of course, the Library’s website—here’s her Web Guide, courtesy of our dear friend and fellow “Catbird” contributor Peter Armenti.

Speaking with Ron Charles of the Washington Post, Smith said of the appointment, “I was stunned. It took me a minute to take it in and think about it, and then, of course, I was immensely honored and started thinking about all the ways I could lend my voice to the celebration of poetry on the national stage.” She went on to say:

It’s what every artist is hoping for: time and space and support for the freedom to create [. . .] I get to immerse myself in the conversation that poetry generates. When we’re talking about the feelings that poems alert us to and affirm, we’re speaking as our realest selves. To imagine bringing the tone of that conversation into different parts of the country and having conversations with people I can’t come into contact with every day, that feels like a really wonderful opportunity.

She told the New York Times, “I’m very excited about the opportunity to take what I consider to be the good news of poetry to parts of the country where literary festivals don’t always go [. . .] Poetry is something that’s relevant to everyone’s life, whether they’re habitual readers of poetry or not.”

Similarly, in an interview with NPR, Smith said, “What excites me is that I’m an ambassador for poetry, which is something that I wholeheartedly believe in and that has been an anchor and a force of stability and consolation throughout my life [. . .] I think that’s good news.

Sitting down with NPR again for a segment of All Things Considered, she spoke in depth about the power of poetry: “[P]oetry gives us a vocabulary for the feelings that don’t easily fit into language. And it’s not a static vocabulary because we as beings are constantly changing and contradicting ourselves and growing and coming up against problems that feel completely new or happinesses that feel completely new [. . .] We can also find a deeper connection to others by acknowledging the feelings that they house as well. And so for me, a poem is also a real vehicle for empathy.”

“This is a position that allows me to kind of profess publicly all that I really hold true privately, that, if we can listen actively enough, if we can put enough pressure on ourselves and our thought process, language can be a real tool of revelation,” Smith said in an interview with PBS NewsHour. “I love being able to do that with my students and my little seminars. And I love the idea that maybe there’s a way that this position allows me to do that with my fellow Americans.” She also read a couple poems for NewsHour, which you can watch here.

Over the next year, we’ll learn so much more about Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith; we hope you’re as excited as we are!

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