Tracy K Smith

Photo by Shawn Miller (modified)

Tracy K Smith

Tracy K. Smith is an American poet and educator. She served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019.

She has published four collections of poetry; Wade in the Water was published in 2018, the Pulitzer Prize winning collection Life on Mars was released in 2011, Duende was published in 2007, and in 2003 saw the release of her first published collection of poetry The Body’s Question.

Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was published in 2015.

Smith became interested in writing and poetry early, reading Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain in elementary school. Dickinson’s poems in particular struck Smith as working like “magic” she wrote in her memoir Ordinary Light, with the rhyme and meter making Dickinson’s verses feel almost impossible not to commit to memory. Smith then composed a short poem entitled “Humor” and showed it to her fifth-grade teacher, who encouraged her to keep writing.

The work of Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Rita Dove also became significant influences.

Smith lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband, Raphael Allison, and their three children.

Photo by Shawn Miller (modified)

Tracy K. Smith is an American poet and educator. She served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019.

She has published four collections of poetry; Wade in the Water was published in 2018, the Pulitzer Prize winning collection Life on Mars was released in 2011, Duende was published in 2007, and in 2003 saw the release of her first published collection of poetry The Body’s Question.

Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was published in 2015.

Smith became interested in writing and poetry early, reading Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain in elementary school. Dickinson’s poems in particular struck Smith as working like “magic” she wrote in her memoir Ordinary Light, with the rhyme and meter making Dickinson’s verses feel almost impossible not to commit to memory. Smith then composed a short poem entitled “Humor” and showed it to her fifth-grade teacher, who encouraged her to keep writing.

The work of Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Rita Dove also became significant influences.

Smith lives in Princeton, NJ with her husband, Raphael Allison, and their three children.

Wade in the Water

Poems

2018


In Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith boldly ties America’s contemporary moment both to our nation’s fraught founding history and to a sense of the spirit, the everlasting. These are poems of sliding scale: some capture a flicker of song or memory; some collage an array of documents and voices; and some push past the known world into the haunted, the holy. Smith’s signature voice―inquisitive, lyrical, and wry―turns over what it means to be a citizen, a mother, and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men, and violence. Here, private utterance becomes part of a larger choral arrangement as the collection widens to include erasures of The Declaration of Independence and the correspondence between slave owners, a found poem comprised of evidence of corporate pollution and accounts of near-death experiences, a sequence of letters written by African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, and the survivors’ reports of recent immigrants and refugees. Wade in the Water is a potent and luminous book by one of America’s essential poets.

Ordinary Light

A Memoir

2015

In Ordinary Light, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Tracy K. Smith tells her remarkable life story, giving us a quietly potent memoir that explores her coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter. Here is the story of a young artist struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.

Life on Mars

Poems

2011

With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures, and oddities of human existence. In these brilliant new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant, and revisits the kitschy concepts like “love” and “illness” now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence. These poems reveal the realities of life lived here, on the ground, where a daughter is imprisoned in the basement by her own father, where celebrities and pop stars walk among us, and where the poet herself loses her father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. With this remarkable third collection, Smith establishes herself among the best poets of her generation.

Duende

Poems

2007

Duende, that dark and elusive force described by Federico García Lorca, is the creative and ecstatic power an artist seeks to channel from within. It can lead the artist toward revelation, but it must also, Lorca says, accept and even serenade the possibility of death. Tracy K. Smith’s bold second poetry collection explores history and the intersections of folk traditions, political resistance, and personal survival. Duende gives passionate testament to suppressed cultures, and allows them to sing.

The Body's Question

2003

The Body’s Question by Tracy K. Smith received the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African-American poet, selected by Kevin Young. Confronting loss, historical intersections with race and family, and the threshold between childhood and adulthood, Smith gathers courage and direction from the many disparate selves encountered in these poems, until, as she writes, “I was anyone I wanted to be.”

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