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 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, reports the AP. 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 for her gift for both social commentary and personal reflection.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden says Smith's poetry is "big and sprawling in its themes" and "shows us … how to think and feel our way through these big ideas." Smith, who will receive a stipend of $35,000, plans to use poetry as a bridge for people of different backgrounds and viewpoints. The laureate's responsibilities are few, allowing appointees to establish individual projects and priorities, such as the workshops for women organized by Maxine Kumin. Smith says she didn't see her new job as a "platform" for her own politics and called the laureate's job "beautifully remote from any kind of political obligation." She says any resistance will be to "pre-fabricated language," the kind absorbed through advertising or "clickbait on the internet." (Read more poet laureate stories.)