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 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. 

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
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)

Ghazal

The sky is a dry pitiless white. The wide rows stretch on into death.
Like famished birds, my hands strip each stalk of its stolen crop: our name.

History is a ship forever setting sail. On either shore: mountains of men,
Oceans of bone, an engine whose teeth shred all that is not our name.

Can you imagine what will sound from us, what we’ll rend and claim
When we find ourselves alone with all we’ve ever sought: our name?

Or perhaps what we seek lives outside of speech, like a tribe of goats
On a mountain above a lake, whose hooves nick away at rock. Our name

Is blown from tree to tree, scattered by the breeze. Who am I to say what,
In that marriage, is lost? For all I know, the grass has caught our name.

Having risen from moan to growl, growl to a hound’s low bray,
The voices catch. No priest, no sinner has yet been taught our name.

Will it thunder up, the call of time? Or lie quiet as bedrock beneath
Our feet? Our name our name our name our fraught, fraught name.

From Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

From Wade in the Water. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy K. Smith. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 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

           for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters


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

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
                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
2