This is your chance to catch the Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K Smith, in a rare UK appearance. Organised by Manchester Literature Festival in the lead-up to this year’s main programme, running 4 to 20 October, this is hopefully a tasty snifter of what to expect this autumn.
Released at the end of May with Penguin, Tracy’s “best of”, Eternity: Selected Poems spans almost 20 years and gathers together work from her four collections to date: The Body’s Question (2003), Duende (2007), Life On Mars (2011), for which she won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, and last year’s Wade In The Water, which was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and the TS Eliot Prize.
“Poetry isn’t an escape or even a luxury. I’d argue it’s a necessity, a means of living more deeply with reality,” she has said, and her poetry has been described by others as “powerful and tender” (ELLE) and “an awakening itself” (Vogue), while New York Magazine said it “deftly illuminates America’s generational wounds”.
The 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K Smith’s poems encompass everything from religion to money, spoken of “as if it were a mysterious lover / Who went out to buy milk and never / Came back”
The 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, a position which Tracy K Smith took on in 2017, the New Yorker calls her a “storyteller” and her poems encompass everything from religion (God is sought “In Bibles and bandwidth”; her “emissaries” are Hell’s Angels) to money, spoken of “as if it were a mysterious lover / Who went out to buy milk and never / Came back”, in between taking on the big questions: life, death, power, politics, the environment, motherhood and race. She considers the role of black women in society and their own families, and explores their lives (and her own) through their bodies, their desires, their adventures and their experiences. There are compilations of sources, borrowings and “based-upons”, and nods to all kinds of kindred spirits, from David Bowie to Pablo Neruda. There are found poems, epistolary pieces and even verbatim histories of slavery and the American Civil War. And contrasting the worst of humanity, the treat of roast chicken and the pleasure of greasy spoon eggs are equally not forgotten.
For this special MLF event, Tracy will perform poems from Wade In The Water and Eternity: Selected Poems. Author of the memoir Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, Tracy also teaches at Princeton University in the States, and she will discuss her extraordinary career – aged still only 47 – with Manchester-based poet and Scottish Makar Jackie Kay.