In case you don’t keep track of such things, our latest poet laureate in the Estados Unitos is Tracy K. Smith. There was a nice profile on her in the April 15th copy of The New York Times Magazine, titled “The Poem Cure” by Ruth Franklin.
Included in the piece are many quotes and excerpts from her new book, Wade in the Water. “Literature allows us to be open, to listen and to be curious,” Smith tells Franklin. And as she travels the U.S. in her new national role, Smith vows, “I want to go to places where writers don’t usually go, where people like me don’t usually show up, and say: ‘Here are some poems. Do they speak to you? What do you hear in them?'”
As an African-American, Smith’s poems often confront issues of race. “You want a poem to unsettle something,” she says. “There’s a deep and interesting kind of troubling that poems do, which is to say: ‘This is what you think you’re certain of, and I’m going to show you how that’s not enough. There’s something more that might be even more rewarding if you’re willing to let go of what you already know.'”
This, of course, is a tall order. One thing we’ve learned in these days of division perpetuated by a “president” who specializes in dividing, is that people are *not* willing to let go of what they already know–perhaps because they can’t be bothered with poetry.
One of Smith’s interests is erasure poetry, wherein you take existing text, erase great swaths, and leave words which speak in a new voice. The article includes one that Smith created from Thomas Jefferson’s greatest hit, The Declaration of Independence. It appears and in her new book and looks like this:
by Tracy K. Smith
sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people
He has plundered our —
ravaged our —
destroyed the lives of our —
taking away our —
abolishing our most valuable —
and altering fundamentally the Forms of our —
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for
Redress in the most humble terms:…
Not a bad collaboration on Jefferson’s and Smith’s part–and further proof (as if we needed any) that we still CANNOT hold these truths to be self-evident, sadly.