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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; 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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Tracy K. Smith reading at SUNY Plattsburgh

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Location: E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, Hawkins Hall.

New Center for Psychoanalysis presents Tracy K. Smith reading at the Writers Guild Theater

Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, CAview map
"THE HAPPINESS PUZZLE: Science, Psychoanalysis and the Arts." Appearing with Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, and Glen Gabbard, MD. Tickets begin at $155 ($55 for students).

Tracy K. Smith reading at the University of San Diego as part of the Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series

University of San Diego in San Diego, CAview map
Location: Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theater.

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

Ashe Civic Center in West Jefferson, NCview map

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.

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

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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.


  • “Smith’s fourth book is the strongest and most wide-ranging she’s written. . . . This work is admirable.”The New York Times Book Review, Best Poetry of 2018
  • “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
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