Tracy K. Smith’s Work Diary: New York Times

Tracy K. Smith’s Work Diary: The ‘Nonstop Rush’ of a Poet Laureate

January 24, 2019

Alexandra Alter of the New York Times interviews Tracy K. Smith about the hectic pace of a U.S. Poet Laureate.

“Poets, in the popular imagination, are solitary figures who spend long quiet hours in isolation, waiting for inspiration to strike. In reality, they’re more likely rushing to faculty meetings, digging out from under unanswered emails and maybe — if they’re lucky — squeezing in an hour of reading or writing.

Tracy K. Smith, one of the most successful, celebrated and productive writers in her field today, is intimately familiar with the daily struggle between creativity and the administrative work of an in-demand poet.

Ms. Smith, 46, who is serving her second term as the United States poet laureate, has traveled the country as an evangelist for her medium, holding readings and workshops in small towns, schools and juvenile detention centers. She has published four volumes of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Life on Mars,” as well as a memoir. Ms. Smith has also written two opera librettos: for “A Marvelous Order,” about the city planner Robert Moses and the urban activist Jane Jacobs, and “Castor and Patience,” about a Southern family dispute over land rights, which was commissioned by the Cincinnati Opera and is set to open in 2020.

As part of Ms. Smith’s mission to make poetry feel more accessible to a broad audience, she started a weekday podcast, “The Slowdown,” featuring poems that speak to contemporary issues. 

“It’s been really beautiful to think in these meditative terms about how poems are useful in our everyday life,” Ms. Smith told me.

She’s also a professor of creative writing at Princeton and is raising three children — Naomi, 9, and her 5-year-old twin boys, Sterling and Atticus — with her husband, the literary scholar Raphael (Raf) Allison.”

Photo: Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

Photo: Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

Courtesy New York Times