Tonight the Library of Congress presents the second virtual program in its series “Hear You, Hear Me,” featuring Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden with the two U.S. Poets Laureate she has appointed: Tracy K. Smith, who served in the position from 2017-2019, and current laureate Joy Harjo.
The series title is based on a passage from the canonical “Poem for English B” by Langston Hughes:
But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
In her opening remarks for the event, the librarian references these lines to move into the heart of the conversation: the power of poetry in times of crisis as well as its enduring power to promote social justice. The laureates also read poems of their own: Tracy reads “Unrest in Baton Rouge,” which was commissioned by Studio 360 as a response to a photo from the 2016 protest; and Joy reads excerpts from “Exile on Memory,” a multi-part poem the National Endowment for the Arts describes as “a meditation on historical trauma and [a weaving] together [of] memories of the past, present, and future.”
The librarian and the poets laureate also discuss “Dear Black America: A Letter from Tracy K. Smith,” published on July 2nd, as well as each laureate’s signature projects: Tracy’s “American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities,” and Joy’s “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry.” And there is much talk of generational power—the link we have to our ancestors and the responsibility we carry for our descendants.
I don’t want to give away any more about about the event—I hope you tune in on the Library’s Facebook page or YouTube site to watch tonight (and if you can’t, the event will be archived as a webcast on the Library’s website.) But I want to say I find it to be a beautiful, difficult, necessary conversation. It also captures a moment of powerful connection between the librarian and both laureates—there is such great respect and admiration and love among them. I urge you to watch and know you will be moved, emboldened, and inspired by the experience.