|Tracy K. Smith|
Smith in October 2012
|Born||(1972-04-16) April 16, 1972|
|Notable awards||Cave Canem Prize (2002)
James Laughlin Award (2006)
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (2012)
I don’t know how anyone can see the Hubble ‘Deep Field’ image and not feel like something else is going about its business out there.
I have kept journals at different times in my life. And a lot of my early notebooks became places where I would just think on the page, trying to parse what I was feeling, to find out what I was thinking.
A question is a pursuit, an invitation to envision and explore a series of possibilities, to struggle and empathize and doubt and believe. The question moves, whereas our sense of what an answer is can often be static, a stopping point.
I feel most alive, most electric with faith, breath, and courage, when I think of God as a current that runs through all that is. Not by will or by choice. Not as a benediction but because there are laws even God must obey.
I am keenly aware that in writing about my mother, I am writing about my aunts’ sister, and that in writing about my grandmother, I’m writing about their mother. I know that my honesty about how my view of these people has changed over the years may be painful.
We all need poetry. The moments in our lives that are characterized by language that has to do with necessity or the market, or just, you know, things that take us away from the big questions that we have, those are the things that I think urge us to think about what a poem can offer.
I think humans have always felt watched back by whatever is out there flickering in the distance. What excites me is what the imagination creates, not simply in explanation of what is there but also to explain or justify the feeling of awe and attachment that the heavens inspire.
One of my main wishes in wanting to write about my mother was to explore the impact of her death on my life, explore our relationship, think about the different versions of myself that I was with and without her. I also had the really strong wish to bring her to life for my children, who were born after she was gone.
So much of my poetry begins with something that I can describe in visual terms, so thinking about distance, thinking about how life begins and what might be watching us.
For years following the death of my mother, I wanted to write about her. I started writing what I thought of as personal essays about growing up as her child, but I never could finish any of them. I think I was too close to that loss, and too eager to try and resolve things, to make her death make sense.
I work with a lot of young people who have poems that are changing their lives, that they’re eager to talk about, but every now and then when I meet someone, maybe someone of my parents’ generation, and I tell them that I write poetry, they’ll begin to recite something that they memorized when they were in school that has never left them.
When my father died, those years when he was working on the Hubble came back to me, and it seemed fitting to imagine him as having somehow merged with the large mystery that the universe represents.
I love the sense of looking at the sad, paltry, and yet very familiar spectacle that we must make from moment to moment in our lives, and in our frenzy, as something that’s as out there as alien life.
I wanted to write the kind of poetry that people read and remembered, that they lived by – the kinds of lines that I carried with me from moment to moment on a given day without even having chosen to.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between poetry and prose, and as I’ve experienced it, poetry is insistent. It allows for images and statements to operate in a single space and resonate powerfully without the application to be elaborated upon and narrated.
Losing my father made me want to find out if I could come up with a version of God or the afterlife that I could feel like was acceptable now that both my parents are in it.
Prose is something that is persistent in staying in one place long enough to not only zero in on the dramatic effect of something that might have happened, or something that might have been seen, but also in watching how it played out and thinking about the cause and the effect.
I had written here and there about my mother in my poems. There are poems for her in my first and second books.
For me, a poem is an opportunity to kind of interrogate myself a little bit.
I grew up in northern California in a town called Fairfield, which is kind of exactly between San Francisco and Sacramento, a small suburb. And I’m the youngest of five children.