On June 14, 2017, Tracy K. Smith was appointed the twenty-second United States Poet Laureate by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. Smith will officially begin her post in September, opening the Library of Congress's annual season of programming with a reading at the Coolidge Auditorium. We asked her to share her thoughts on American poetry and her new role.
How do you see the role of the poet in American culture?
I see the poet as someone who has made a commitment not just to self-expression, but to an active and an eager listening to the world and the voices outside of the self. The poet is willing to be changed by the things that language can reveal—about who we are, how we live, what our impact upon the world and one another is.
In The New York Times, you said, “Poetry is something that’s relevant to everyone’s life, whether they’re habitual readers of poetry or not.” How is it relevant? What would you say this art form gives to people that other art forms don't?
I think poems cause a person to slow down, to look and listen more carefully, and to submit to the validity of other voices, other perspectives, other kinds of truth. Poetry as an art form gives us practice caring about others, and accepting that their perspectives can be as valid and vital as our own.
You've said you plan to use your time as poet laureate bringing poetry to underserved communities. How might you accomplish this?
It's still a bit soon to speak to logistics, but I'd like to bring poets, readings, workshops, and conversations about the things poems make us notice and feel to the places festivals and reading series often do not reach.
How would you characterize American poetry right now?
I think American poetry is made up of an incredibly diverse and vibrant array of voices. This seems to be true now more than ever before.