Visiting Poets

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2017-2019 and is the author of four acclaimed collections of poetry, including, most recently, Wade in the Water (Graywolf, 2018) and Life on Mars, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2012. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015. “The surfaces of a Tracy K. Smith poem are beautiful and serene,” poet Toi Derricotte has said, “but underneath, there is always a sense of an unknown vastness.” Smith serves as the chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, and also hosts the daily poetry podcast The Slowdown, described by Electric Literature as “a literary once-a-day multivitamin.”

Tracy K. Smith was our featured reader on October 21, 2020, a celebration of the formal dedication of the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center.

Select Poems

Strange house we must keep and fill.

House that eats and pleads and kills.

House on legs. House on fire. House infested

With desire. Haunted house. Lonely house.

House of trick and suck and shrug.

Give-it-to-me house. I-need-you-baby house.

House whose rooms are pooled with blood.

House with hands. House of guilt. House

That other houses built. House of lifes

And pride and bone. House afraid to be alone. 

House like an engine that churns and stalls.

House with skin and hair for walls.

House the seasons singe and douse.

House that believes it is not a house. 


From Wade in the Water (Graywolf, 2018)

What a profound longing 

I feel, just this very instant,

For the Garden of Eden

On Montague Street

Where I seldom shopped

Usually only after therapy,

Elbow sore at the crook

From a handbasket filled

To capacity. The glossy pastries!

Pomegranate, persimmon, quince!

Once, a bag of black beluga

Lentils split a trail behind me

While I labored to find

A tea they refused to carry.

It was Brooklyn. My thirties.

Everyone I knew was living

The same desolate luxury,

Each ashamed of the same things:

Innocence and privacy. I’d lug

Home the paper bags, doing

Bank-balance math and counting days.

I’d squint into it, or close my eyes

And let it slam me in the face––

The known sun setting

On the dawning century. 


From Wade in the Water (Graywolf, 2018)

Why and by whose power were you sent?

What do you see that you may wish to steal?

Why this dancing? Why do your dark bodies

Drink up all the light? Why are you demanding

That we feel? Have you stolen something? Then

What is that leaping in your chest? What is

The nature of your mission? Do you seek

To offer a confession? Have you anything to do

With others brought by us to harm? Then

Why are you afraid? And why do you invade

Our night, hands raised, eyes wide, mute As ghosts?

Is there something you wish to confess?

Is this some enigmatic type of test? What if we

Fail? How and to whom do we address our appeal? 


From Wade in the Water (Graywolf, 2018)

Poetry Center Reading

Fall 2020