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from From the Fishouse

About this poet

Born on April 16, 1972, Tracy K. Smith was raised in Falmouth, Massachusetts. 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 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.

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's 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 teaches at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Bibliography

Poetry

Life on Mars (Graywolf Press, 2011)
Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007)
The Body's Question (Graywolf Press, 2003)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Duende

Tracy K. Smith, 1972
                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

Tracy K. Smith

Born on April 16, 1972, Tracy K. Smith was raised in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Smith's first collection, The Body's Question (Graywolf, 2003), won the Cave Canem Prize in 2002

by this poet

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