(Editor’s note: the information for this article was found on the website of the Library of Congress)
Perhaps it happened so quietly that you missed in. I know I did. But it did happen…..in June. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden appointed Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant on Poetry on June 14, 2017. Smith’s term lasts from September to May.
Why is this important? As noted here previously, this person has the task of raising “the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry,” an unenviable task, to be sure.
“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 human.”
On being appointed to serve as Poet Laureate, 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, empathetic and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future-readers across this marvelously diverse country.”
A native of Falmouth, Massachusetts, Smith is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Nonfiction. Her fourth poetry collection, Wade in the Water,
will be published in 2018.
So what does the Poet Laureate actually do? First of all, she keeps her “day job” of Humanities Professor and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. The Poet Laureate gives a reading to open the Library of Congress’s annual literary series and a lecture to conclude the series, “the oldest in the Washington area and among the oldest in the United States.”
In keeping with the creative nature of poetry, “the Library of Congress keeps to a minimum the specific official duties it requires of the Poet Laureate to afford each incumbent maximum freedom to work on his or her own projects while at the Library. Each appointee brings a new emphasis to the position. Some consultants have organized and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have filled their calendars with speaking engagements at schools and universities or by receiving the general public in the Poetry Room. Since 1991, following the lead of Joseph Brodsky, the Poets Laureate have frequently designed programs with a national reach.”
What will the tenure of Tracy K. Smith bring? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here is her poem “The Good Life,” originally published in Life on Mars. See what you think.
When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For all the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.