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Former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith Shares Her National Poetry Month Tips

Former national poet laureate Tracy K. Smith shares her advice for poets during National Poetry Month.
Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Former national poet laureate Tracy K. Smith shares her advice for poets during National Poetry Month.

In honor of National Poetry Month, we've been asking our audience to tweet us their poems all through the month of April.

To participate, send your original poem, in 140 characters or less, to @npratc with the hashtag #NPRpoetry.

Each week, we read through some submissions with a celebrated poet.

This week, Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who was named a U.S. Poet Laureate in 2017, chose her favorite submissions for an interview with All Things Considered.

Combing through the poetry entries, Smith said she saw many that spoke to the feelings of living through the coronavirus pandemic.

"There are a lot of poems that are thinking about the anxiety and oftentimes the grief that we feel," she said. "There's a lot of worry and uncertainty."

A poem from Marah Toews (@Marah_Eliza) caught Smith's eye, because, she said, it "reminds me of what I feel during these weeks of sheltering in place."

By @Marah_Eliza:


Wake up.

Back to bed.

The days blend.

Was that yesterday?

Or the day before?

Smith, a creative writing teacher at Princeton University, has advice for our Twitter poets: Spend time "looking at things that don't normally call your attention to them, and thinking about what you see," she said.

"Poetry lives everywhere and perhaps the chief task of the poet is to look closely at places that are often ignored or disregarded and to find the gems or the insight that might dwell there," she added.

Smith's latest collection of poems, Wade in the Water, published in 2018. The book connects America's dark past and present — from slavery to today's acts of racial violence — weaving in forgotten African American voices. Yet she says following poem, "An Old Story," excerpted from Wade, can speak to our current moment:

"An Old Story" by Tracy K. Smith

We were made to understand it would be

Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,

Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.

Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful

Dream. The worst in us having taken over

And broken the rest utterly down.

A long age

Passed. When at last we knew how little

Would survive us—how little we had mended

Or built that was not now lost—something

Large and old awoke. And then our singing

Brought on a different manner of weather.

Then animals long believed gone crept down

From trees. We took new stock of one another.

We wept to be reminded of such color.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.