Tracy K. Smith sees her purpose as making poetry accessible for everyone.

In an interview with Time, Smith said that as U.S poet laureate, her “duty” is to convey that poetry is “something everyone has permission to do.”

“A poem is not something you need an advanced degree to comprehend,” she said.

Though Smith may be working at an Ivy League university, her poems speak to all walks of life. Topics vary from David Bowie and science fiction to race and faith. Her latest book, “Wade in the Water,” is about the Civil War.

“Her poetry moves back and forth, from the interior to the exterior, from the personal to the universal,” Teton County Library Programs Coordinator Leah Shlachter said. “Her poems erase parts of the Declaration of Independence, giving it new meaning. Her poems give voice to photographs, to moments in time.”

Smith will give a reading, talk and subsequent workshop this weekend.

The reading is at 7 p.m. Friday in the Center for the Arts, with a book signing to follow. The event is free but ticketed. Tickets can be picked up at the Teton County Library.

At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Smith will lead a workshop titled “Nothing Like Itself: A Workshop on the Uses of Metaphor,” at the library. The event is free, and no registration is required.

Smith, who has a Pulitzer to her name and teaches creative writing at Princeton University, said poetry allows people to access both humanity and humility.

“Poetry requires us to be humble and beholden to something other than our own opinion,” Smith stated in the Time interview. “That’s important. ... A poem says, ‘No, no. You have feelings. You have fears. You have questions. Let’s get back to the voice and the vocabulary of being human.’”

“Wade in the Water” dissects that human vocabulary, focusing on the Civil War and America’s racially-charged past and present.

For Shlachter, having Smith in Jackson represents a moment of understanding the power of poetry, something so removed from the best-seller lists and pulp fiction series.

“That is part of the beauty of poetry,” Schlacther said. “It’s not a commodity, and yet expressing one’s self, understanding others and being understood, is essential.”

She said she hopes Jacksonites embrace Smith. To prepare for the poet’s visit the library put up an art exhibit, blank paper with the prompt “What does it feel like to live in this world?”

The question is meant to get Jacksonites thinking in a poetic way, something Shlachter hopes will continue.

“Tracy K. Smith has a voice that is inviting,” she said. “If you are afraid of poetry, for whatever reason, you should come hear her and challenge that assumption.” 

Contact Isa Jones at 732-7062, or @JHNGscene.

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