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Best of the National Book Festival: Tracy K. Smith and Robert Hass, 2018

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

At the 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival, then Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and former laureate Robert Hass (1995-97) joined the Poetry and Literature Center’s Anya Creightney on the Poetry & Prose stage to discuss the making of poetry and their two new books: Smith’s anthology “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time” and Hass’ “A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry.”

When asked how poetry can instruct a thoughtful, engaging life, Smith offers that “language is so beautiful because, if you let it, it can lead you beyond what is obvious; it can lead you beyond what you think is true into something that’s more deeply true.” Hass tells the audience how he and Smith were discussing the job of Poet Laureate, both agreeing it’s “odd. …You’re given this title and you suddenly get a whole bunch of projections you didn’t get before,” he says. “Someone comes up after a reading and says, ‘Would you hold my baby so I can take a picture.’ That hadn’t happened before.”

The laureates read a few poems during the presentation; Smith reads two poems from “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time,” and Hass reads one of his own poems. Timestamps are below:

  • “Sugar and Brine: Ella’s Understanding,” Vievee Francis (read by Tracy K. Smith at 2:49)
  • “becoming a horse,” Ross Gay (read by Tracy K. Smith at 9:06)
  • “Shame: An Aria,” Robert Hass (22:21)

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival, which is free for everyone, will be held on Saturday, Aug. 29. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.