From the archives: Poet Tracy K. Smith at Talking Volumes in 2019

A woman poses for a picture while smiling.
Author Tracy K Smith spoke with MPR’s Kerri Miller about her new book of poetry “Wade in the Water” at Talking Volumes.
Courtesy of Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Tracy K. Smith is aware of the stereotypes about poetry. You’re probably aware of them too — that poems are precious, sometimes pretentious and removed from the grit of our daily lives.

But the 2017 U.S. poet laureate also knows that poems can be an escape, a mirror or a vehicle for understanding some of the most complicated parts of our shared humanity.

Speaking on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater in 2019, Smith put it this way:

“A poem isn’t merely a perfect, decorative object. It’s something you can call upon in case of an emergency. It’s something that speaks to the real, the painful, the beautiful and the deliriously joyful. Poems have language for that and I think they give us a better vocabulary for talking about our lives.”

Enjoy this Talking Volumes discussion from our archives as you anticipate this Friday’s Big Books and Bold Ideas conversation with poet Ross Gay talking about his new book, “Inciting Joy.”


  • Tracy K. Smith is a professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She was the U.S. poet laureate in 2017.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. 

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