(The following is a repost from the blog “From the Catbird Seat: Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress.”)
Today the Library of Congress announced the appointment of the 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, Tracy K. Smith. Following is an interview that Poetry and Literature Center digital content manager Anne Holmes conducted with Smith via e-mail.
What was it like to get the call from the Librarian, asking you to be the next poet laureate?
I was genuinely stunned. As someone who has been so deeply inspired and instructed by the work of former poets laureate—from Robert Frost to Gwendolyn Brooks, and Elizabeth Bishop to Natasha Trethewey—it’s an honor and an affirmation I couldn’t have anticipated.
What about the laureateship most excites you?
I am excited about the kinds of social divides that poetry may be able not just to cross but to mend. One of my favorite things in the world is to sit and talk quietly about the things poems cause me to notice and remember, the feelings they teach me to recognize, the deep curiosity about other people’s lives that they foster. I am excited about carrying this conversation beyond literary festivals and university classrooms, and finding ways that poems might genuinely bring together people who imagine they have nothing to say to one another.
How does poetry inform the way you understand and navigate the world?
For me, reading and writing poetry really does foster and sustain an inner life. Reading and writing poems requires me to slow things down, to step outside of the constant forward churn of day-to-day life. It allows me to actually stop and listen to small details, quiet voices and fleeting thoughts, allowing them to take on greater weight, greater relevance. Poems invite me to care about places and lives separated from me by time, distance, and culture; they foster empathy, curiosity, humility; they assure me that my perspective and my certainties are matched by countless others, all richly complex, all worthy of consideration.