Dec. 31 – Tracy K. Smith – Wade in the Water [Advent Calendar]

The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2018
Advent / Christmas Calendar
December 31


Wade in the Water:

Tracy K. Smith

Hardback: Graywolf, 2018
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Smith once told an interviewer that when she had finished writing her first book, she felt she had gotten off her chest all she had to say and was tired of herself. “I’m going to let go of the first person,” she told herself. Of course, she didn’t. She turned to photography for about a year during an extended writer’s block, and when she did get back into writing, everything felt different. She realized that vivid imagery could go far toward condensing a poem’s narrative and conveying feelings. In her last two books we see the results of that lesson. The poems in “Wade in the Water” are full of memorable images nimbly put together by Smith’s exquisite sense of timing and her feel for the kind of language appropriate to the poem.

The poems here about the country’s shameful history of racism and injustice, and the ones about the treatment of recent immigrants and refugees, will probably attract most of the attention — and they ought to. It’s rare for a sitting poet laureate to release a collection of new work during her term, and here Smith is forcefully addressing some of the nation’s enduring wounds.

But “Wade in the Water” is not only a political book. It asks how an artist might navigate the political and the personal, and the collection’s real strength lies in its many marvelous poems that are more private: “The Angels,” for instance, about seeing a couple of them in her hotel room. Or the poem about God taking a walk around his creation. Or the ones about children, or the one about a slow man jogging, or the one about joining some believers as they wade into water.


LISTEN to the poet read the book’s title poem… 



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