Wading in Translation’s Waters: Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wading in the Waters of Translation: The New Poet Laureate of the United States

This summer, for the first time, I am teaching in a summer session at CSU Long Beach. In previous years, I primarily worked up at Idyllwild Arts, where I taught a fiction writing class to teenagers. Some of my students included Sara Wintz and Julia Glassman. I retired from that job after twenty consecutive summers; it was one of the best parts of my life. During the second half of my annual residency there, I had the good fortune to be able to meet an intriguing mix of poets, many of whom were up and coming figures who were not yet well known. Natasha Trethewey and Terrance Hayes were both featured poets at Idyllwild. I have no doubt that if Cecilia Woloch could have continued to run the festival, the nation’s new poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith, would have read there, too.

I was exceptionally pleased yesterday evening to check the news after I finished teaching my four-hour class to find out about the appointment of Tracy K. Smith as our nation’s poet laureate. In large part, I found myself applauding this announcement because her writing has demonstrated a capacity to be of relevance to readers in another country. With a fair amount of vehemence, I have previously written in this blog about the fashionable provinciality of much of American poetry, and how little of it merits translation into another language. Tracy K. Smith, I am happy to report, is an exception to this stultifying condition. Life in Mars, for instance, has been translated as a stand-alone volume into Spanish (Vida en Marte). If anyone were to ask me what establishes her as worthy of the honor of being U.S. poet laureate, it is not the Pulitzer Prize, for Pulitzer Prize books do not necessarily get translated into another major language. I was not surprised, therefore, to learn of her appointment; three years ago, when I saw that her book had waded into the waters of translation and emerged transfigured, I knew that she was most certainly on her way to something special.
Life on Mars – Spanish 1

I have included links to an interview with Carolyn Kellogg at the L.A. Times, as well as links to a few of her poems, including the title poem of a book that will appear in 2018.







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