On Wednesday, the Library of Congress announced that Tracy K. Smith will serve as the 22nd Poet Laureate, a role most recently held by Juan Felipe Herrera, joining the ranks of poets like Rita Dove, Natasha Trethewey, Louise Glück, and Robert Pinsky.
Smith, who currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University, is the author of three volumes of poetry including 2011's Life on Mars, an elegy for her father, a scientist who worked on the Hubble telescope and died in 2008, which won the Pulitzer in 2012. A poem from that collection, “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” about David Bowie, went viral after the singer’s death in 2016. In the context of Bowie’s untimely passing, it is a beautiful tribute.
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?
The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.
Writing in the New Yorker in March, Jezebel friend and former colleague Jia Tolentino said of the collection, “I come back to ‘Life on Mars’ when I need a reminder of the kind of courage and beauty that can only be found in uncertainty and sadness.”
The role of Poet Laureate is intentionally vague; those who hold the title receive a $35,000 stipend, funded by a private gift, and the requirements for the job are really up to the poet selected. Smith intends to use her role to show that poetry isn’t as inaccessible as it is sometimes perceived to be. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to take what I consider to be the good news of poetry to parts of the country where literary festivals don’t always go,” she told the New York Times. “Poetry is something that’s relevant to everyone’s life, whether they’re habitual readers of poetry or not.”
Smith’s latest collection is called Wade in the Water and will be published in April 2018. Her tenure as Poet Laureate begins in September.