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Wade in the Water

Tracy K. Smith
Even the men in black armor, the ones
Jangling handcuffs and keys, what else
Are they so buffered against, if not love’s blade
Sizing up the heart’s familiar meat?
We watch and grieve. We sleep, stir, eat.
Love: the heart sliced open, gutted, clean.
Love: naked almost in the everlasting street,
Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze.
—from “Unrest in Baton Rouge”
In Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith boldly ties America’s contemporary moment both to our nation’s fraught founding history and to a sense of the spirit, the everlasting. These are poems of sliding scale: some capture a flicker of song or memory; some collage an array of documents and voices; and some push past the known world into the haunted, the holy. Smith’s signature voice—inquisitive, lyrical, and wry—turns over what it means to be a citizen, a mother, and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men, and violence. Here, private utterance becomes part of a larger choral arrangement as the collection widens to include erasures of the Declaration of Independence and the correspondence between slave owners, a found poem comprised of evidence of corporate pollution and accounts of near-death experiences, a sequence of letters written by African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, and the survivors’ reports of recent immigrants and refugees. Wade in the Water is a potent and luminous book by one of America’s essential poets. 

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The extraordinary new poetry collection by Tracy K. Smith, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Life on Mars

About the Author

Tracy K. Smith
Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
 Tracy K. Smith is the author of Wade in the Water;Life on Mars, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a New York Times Notable Book; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2017, Smith was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. She teaches at Princeton University, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her family.
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Upcoming Events

Tracy K. Smith appearing as part of the 18th Library of Congress National Book Festival

Washington Convention Center in Washington, DCview map
"Two Poet Laureates on the Making of Poetry," a conversation with Robert Hass. Location: Poetry & Prose Stage. Book signing at 3:30 PM.

Tracy K. Smith delivering the Keynote Address as part of On the Same Page

Ashe Civic Center in West Jefferson, NCview map

Catherine Barnett and Tracy K. Smith reading at NYU's Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House

Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House in New York, NYview map
Part of The New Salon series. In conversation with Deborah Landau. Co-sponsored by the NYU Creative Writing Program and Poetry Society of America. Location: Greenberg Lounge, NYU School of Law.

Write On, Door County presents Tracy K. Smith reading at Southern Door Community Auditorium

Southern Door Community Auditorium in Brussels, WIview map


  • “Smith is the country’s poetic caretaker, calling both for collective reckoning and collective empathy.”The Atlantic
  • “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 New York Times Book Review
  • “Smith’s poetry is an awakening itself.”—Vogue
  • “In these poems, with both gentleness and severity, Smith generously accepts what is an unusually public burden for an American poet, bringing national strife home, and finding the global in the local.”—
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