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from From the Fishouse

About this poet

Born on April 16, 1972, Tracy K. Smith was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and raised in Fairfield, California. She studied at Harvard University, where she joined the Dark Room Collective, a reading series for writers of color. She went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University.

Smith is the author of four poetry collections, including Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018), which is shortlisted for the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize. Her debut collection, The Body's Question (Graywolf Press, 2003), won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 2002. Her second book, Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007), won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her collection Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011) won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She also edited the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time (Graywolf Press, 2018).

A starred review of Smith's work in Publisher's Weekly noted her "lyric brilliance and political impulses." A review of Duende in The New York Times Book Review stated, "The most persuasively haunted poems here are those where [Smith] casts herself not simply as a dutiful curator of personal history but a canny medium of fellow feeling and the stirrings of the collective unconscious...it's this charged air of rapt apprehension that gives her spare, fluid lines their coolly incantatory tenor."

Smith is the recipient of the 2014 Academy of American Poets Fellowship. About Smith, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Toi Derricotte said: “The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene, but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness. Her poems take the risk of inviting us to imagine, as the poet does, what it is to travel in another person’s shoes. The Academy is fortunate to be able to confer this fitting recognition on one of the most important poets of our time.”

In 2017, Smith was appointed poet laureate of the United States. Her other awards and honors include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, a 2004 Rona Jaffe Writers Award, a 2008 Essence Literary Award, a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, a fellowship from the Breadloaf Writers' Conference, and a 2005 Whiting Award. She is the director of Princeton University's creative writing program and lives in New Jersey.


Bibliography

Poetry
Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018)
Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)
Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007)
The Body's Question (Graywolf Press, 2003)

Prose
Ordinary Light: A Memoir (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)

Duende

                1.

The earth is dry and they live wanting.
Each with a small reservoir
Of furious music heavy in the throat.  
They drag it out and with nails in their feet
Coax the night into being.  Brief believing.  
A skirt shimmering with sequins and lies.
And in this night that is not night,
Each word is a wish, each phrase
A shape their bodies ache to fill—

             I’m going to braid my hair
         Braid many colors into my hair
             I’ll put a long braid in my hair
         And write your name there

They defy gravity to feel tugged back.
The clatter, the mad slap of landing.


		2.

And not just them.  Not just
The ramshackle family, the tios,
Primitos, not just the bailaor
Whose heels have notched 
And hammered time
So the hours flow in place
Like a tin river, marking
Only what once was.
Not just the voices scraping
Against the river, nor the hands
nudging them farther, fingers
like blind birds, palms empty,
echoing.  Not just the women
with sober faces and flowers
in their hair, the ones who dance
as though they're burying
memory—one last time—
beneath them.
	  And I hate to do it here.
To set myself heavily beside them.
Not now that they’ve proven
The body a myth, parable
For what not even language 
Moves quickly enough to name.
If I call it pain, and try to touch it
With my hands, my own life,
It lies still and the music thins,
A pulse felt for through garments.
If I lean into the desire it starts from—
If I lean unbuttoned into the blow
Of loss after loss, love tossed
Into the ecstatic void—
It carries me with it farther,
To chords that stretch and bend
Like light through colored glass.
But it races on, toward shadows
Where the world I know 
And the world I fear
Threaten to meet.


                3.

There is always a road,
The sea, dark hair, dolor.

Always a question
Bigger than itself—

	They say you’re leaving Monday
	Why can’t you leave on Tuesday?

First published in Gulf Coast. Copyright © Tracy K. Smith. Used with permission of the author.

First published in Gulf Coast. Copyright © Tracy K. Smith. Used with permission of the author.

Tracy K. Smith: Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the poet laureate of the United States. She received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2014 and the James Laughlin Award in 2006 for her second book, Duende.

by this poet

poem

 

200 cows         more than 600 hilly acres

            property would have been even larger
had  J not sold 66 acres to DuPont for
                      waste from its Washington Works factory
where J was employed        
                                                did not want

2
poem

He will surely take it out when you’re alone

And let it dangle between you like a locket on a chain.

Like any world, it will flicker with lights that mean dwellings,

Traffic, a constellation of need. Tiny clouds will drag shadows

Across the plane. He’ll grin watching you

poem

We were made to understand it would be
Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,
Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.

Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful
Dream. The worst in us having taken over
And broken the rest utterly down.