Tracy K. Smith, the country’s new poet laureate, would like to start a conversation.
“A poem asks you to let go many of your assumptions, move away from your own certainties and to listen,” says Smith, 45, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose appointment to a one-year term was announced Wednesday, June 14, by the Library of Congress.
Smith, who succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera, won the Pulitzer in 2012 for her poetry collection “Life on Mars” and was a National Book Award finalist for nonfiction three years later for her memoir, “Ordinary Light.” She has been praised for her command of language and emotions, for a vision that encompasses everything from space exploration to the death of her father, and her gift for both social commentary and personal reflection.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement that Smith “shows us through these poems how to think and feel our way through these big ideas. It’s wonderful that her poetry can be so big and sprawling in its themes, and at the same time laser-focused in its words.”
The laureate’s responsibilities are few, allowing appointees to establish individual projects and priorities, such as the workshops for women organized by Maxine Kumin. The job’s official title is the lofty “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry,” with a more grounded stipend of $35,000. The laureate “serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans,” according to the library, and “seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.”
Other previous laureates include Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove and Natasha Trethewey.