Last Updated on June 25, 2017 by Andre Loftis

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On June 14, the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced the appointment of Pulitzer Prize- winning poet Tracy K. Smith the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2017-18.

Smith, a professor at Princeton University, will succeed Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate this fall, when she is scheduled to open the Library’s annual literary season in September.

“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching,” Hayden said. “Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion, and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths—all to better understand what makes us most human.”

Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1972, Smith was raised in Fairfield, California. She earned a B.A. in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University.

Smith was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. She taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh, and at Columbia University. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.

Smith has authored three books of poetry, including Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Duende (2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award, and The Body’s Question (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith also authored the memoir Ordinary Light (2015), a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction and selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Among her many achievements, Smith is the recipient of both the Rona Jaffe Writers Award and a Whiting Award. In 2014, the Academy of American Poets awarded her with the Academy Fellowship, given to one poet annually to recognize distinguished poetic achievement. In 2016, she won the 16th annual Robert Creeley Award and was awarded Columbia University’s Medal for Excellence.

When Smith assumes her new role in September, she will join a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.

When the appointment was announced Smith said, “I am profoundly honored. As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic, and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”

During her term as Poet Laureate, Smith will work to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. In a recent interview with PBS, Smith said, “I think the responsibility really is to just help raise the awareness of poetry and its value in our culture. To me that means talking to people, getting off the usual path of literary festivals and university reading series and talking to people who might not even yet be readers of poetry.”

Wade in the Water, Smith’s fourth book of poetry, is scheduled for release in 2018. Here is a poem from that collection as presented on PBS. Smith dedicated the poem to the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, performers of a transcendent religious ritual first practiced by African slaves in the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Wade in the Water

One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said.
She didn’t Know me,
but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back.
I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.
I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Singing that old blood-deep song
That dragged us to those banks
And cast us in. I love you,
The angles of it scraping at
Each throat, shouldering past
The swirling dust motes
In those beams of light
That whatever we now knew
We could let ourselves feel, knew
To climb. O Woods—O
Dogs—O Tree—O Gun—
O Girl, run—O
Miraculous Many Gone—
O Lord—O Lord—O
Lord—Is this love the
trouble you promised?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][vc_column_text el_class=”small”]Feature photo: Princeton University[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.