Tracy K. Smith, a poet and assistant professor of creative writing (at Princeton University), was awarded this week the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her third collection of poems “Life on Mars.” Not familiar with this poet and her work, I’ve been trying to read up on her and compiled here some information about Ms. Smith and a selection of her poetry.
Ms. Smith’s was raised in northern California in a family that she has said has strong Alabama roots. Her education background includes receiving degrees in English and creative writing from Harvard College and Columbia University. She was also for two years, from 1997 – 1999, a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.
A review of Ms. Smith’s work has stated she is a poet who displays “lyric brilliance and political impulses.” Her first book of poems entitled “The Body’s Question” (2003) won the Cave Canem Prize. Her second book of poetry, “Duende,”was very well received, having won several awards including in 2008 the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans. This collection also won the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets, which is the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book.
Ms. Smith joined the Princeton faculty in 2006 and teaches creative writing there at the Lewis Center for the Arts. Among her responsibilities is her working with students in poetry writing workshops and guiding other students as an adviser while they write their senior thesis in poetry.
A species of tiny human has been discovered, which
lived on the remote Indonesian island of Flores just
18,000 years ago. … Researchers have so far unearthed
remains from eight individuals who were just one
[meter] tall, with grapefruit-sized skulls. These
astonishing little people … made tools, hunted tiny
elephants and lived at the same time as modern
humans who were colonizing the area.
Nature, October 2004
Light: lifted, I stretch my brief body.
Color: blaze of day behind blank eyes.
Sound: birds stab greedy beaks
Into trunk and seed, spill husk
Onto the heap where my dreaming
And my loving live.
Every day I wake to this.
Tracks follow the heavy beasts
Back to where they huddle, herd.
Hunt: a dance against hunger.
Music: feast and fear.
This island becomes us.
Trees cap our sky. It rustles with delight
In a voice green as lust. Reptiles
Drag night from their tails,
Live by the dark. A rage of waves
Protects the horizon, which we would devour.
One day I want to dive in and drift,
Legs and arms wracked with danger.
Like a dark star. I want to last.
(published 2007, from the book of poems “Duende” by Tracy K. Smith)
Stint as newspoet — January 2012
Earlier this year Ms. Smith spent a day at the NPR studios of the program “All Things Considered” as their first Newspoet. The purpose of this NPR project was for a poet to spend all day in the NPR newsroom, and at the day’s conclusion, compose a poem reflecting the news of that day.
Ms. Smith proved to be a trooper, and while she found the experience “delightful and a little terrifying,” she managed to write a poem at the day’s end before she departed.
(This poem was inspired by the news report “After Bombings, an Exodus from a Nigerian City” where recent attacks by a radical Muslim group resulted in people fleeing the city of Kano).
New Road Station
History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman
Corralling her children onto a crowded bus.
History spits Go, go, go, lurching at the horizon,
Hammering the driver’s headrest with her fist.
Nothing else moves. The flies settle in place
Watching with their million eyes, never bored.
The crows strike their bargain with the breeze.
They cluck and caw at the women in their frenzy,
The ones who suck their teeth, whose skirts
Are bathed in mud. But history is not a woman,
And it is not the crowd forming in a square.
It is not the bright swarm of voices chanting No,
And Now, or even the rapt silence of a room
Where a film of history is right now being screened.
Perhaps history is the bus that will only wait so long
Before cranking its engine and barreling down
The road. Maybe it is the voice coming in
Through the radio like a long distance call
Or the child in the crook of his mother’s arm
Who believes history must sleep inside a tomb
Or the belly of a bomb.