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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, Pulitzer Prize winner 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. Here, private utterance becomes part of a larger choral arrangement as the collection includes erasures of the Declaration of Independence and correspondence between slave owners, a found poem composed 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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Now in paperback, the extraordinary poetry collection by Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States

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; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award; and The Body’s Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the editor of an anthology, American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, and the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. From 2017 to 2019, Smith served as Poet Laureate of the United States. She teaches at Princeton University.
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Upcoming Events

Tracy K. Smith reading at the Chicago Public Library as part of Poetry Fest

Chicago Public Library in Chicago, ILview map
Cosponsored with the Poetry Foundation.

Tracy K. Smith presents an oratorio at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, NYview map
"I Will Tell You the Truth About This, I Will Tell You All About It." Set for choir, soprano and baritone soloists by composer Aaron Siegel. Please RSVP to this free event starting April 16.

Graywolf at 45: New York Literary Soiree

The Century Association in New York, NYview map

Celebrate Graywolf's forty-five years of publishing history and toast to three of our literary stars

The 2019 Graywolf Literary Soirée will feature Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other PartiesIn the Dream House), Max Porter (LannyGrief Is the Thing With Feathers), and Tracy K. Smith (Wade in the WaterAmerican Journal).

Join us for a brilliant evening featuring three of Graywolf's most influential and best-selling authors, with delicious passed appetizers, wine, and cocktails. As Graywolf looks back on forty-five years of adventurous publishing, help us celebrate becoming a destination press for some of the most ground-breaking writers of our time.

Tickets on sale starting March 1, 2019. Single tickets are $275, and two or more tickets are $250 each ($75 of each ticket is not tax-deductible). Sponsorships are available starting at $1,000; to learn more, contact Rachel Fulkerson at

All proceeds support Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publisher committed to the discovery and energetic publication of twenty-first century American and international literature.

Tracy K. Smith reading at Arlington Public Library as part of Arlington Reads

Arlington Public Library - Central in Arlington, VAview map
Please RSVP for this free event.

Claudia Rankine and Tracy K. Smith appearing at New York Live Arts

New York Live Arts in New York, NYview map
In conversation with Bill T. Jones. Tickets start at $10.

Tracy K. Smith reading at National Sawdust

National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NYview map
Paul Muldoon's "Against the Grain," with Min Jin Lee. Music by So Percussion. Tickets are $29-34.


  • “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
  • “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.”—
  • “Smith brings great intelligence and sensitivity to her poems, leading readers deeper into other people’s stories—and ultimately into their own humanity.”The Washington Post
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