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About this poet

Born on April 16, 1972, Tracy K. Smith was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and raised in Fairfield, California. She is the youngest of five children. She studied at Harvard, 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's first 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 most recent collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In April 2018, Graywolf Press will publish her book Wade in the Water.

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 Tracy K. 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
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)

Flores Woman

A species of tiny human has been discovered, which lived on the remote Indonesian island of Flores just 18,000 years ago. . . . Researchers have so far unearthed remains from eight individuals who were just one metre tall, with grapefruit-sized skulls. These astonishing little people . . . made tools, hunted tiny elephants and lived at the same time as modern humans who were colonizing the area.

—Nature, October 2004

Light: lifted, I stretch my brief body.
Color: blaze of day behind blank eyes.

Sound: birds stab greedy beaks
Into trunk and seed, spill husk

Onto the heap where my dreaming
And my loving live.

Every day I wake to this.

Tracks follow the heavy beasts
Back to where they huddle, herd.

Hunt: a dance against hunger.
Music: feast and fear.

This island becomes us.

Trees cap our sky. It rustles with delight
In a voice green as lust. Reptiles

Drag night from their tails,
Live by the dark. A rage of waves

Protects the horizon, which we would devour.
One day I want to dive in and drift,

Legs and arms wracked with danger.
Like a dark star. I want to last.

Copyright © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted from Duende with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

Copyright © 2007 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted from Duende with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

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

           after the photo by Jonathan Bachman
 

Our bodies run with ink dark blood.
Blood pools in the pavement’s seams.

Is it strange to say love is a language
Few practice, but all, or near all speak?

Even the men in black armor, the ones
Jangling

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
There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.

History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,

Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.

Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,

Having outlived every