ALBUQUERQUE – The U.S. poet laureate has embarked on the first of several trips to bring her poetry to rural pockets of the country where she says book festivals rarely take her.
A tour of New Mexico marks Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy K. Smith’s first trip as part of a pilot project she’s launched in her role as the United States’ 22nd poet laureate. Her tour began Thursday evening with a reading at Cannon Air Force Base outside Clovis, an agricultural town on the far eastern plains of New Mexico.
On Friday afternoon, she visits the Santa Fe Indian School, where students from tribal communities across New Mexico and much of the United State board in dormitories and can take classes in Native American history, tribal languages and tribal government and as well as algebra, English and science. While Santa Fe itself is a cultural capital of the Southwest, many of the school’s students hail from underserved communities on rural reservations.
Smith, 45, has not previously spent time in Native American communities.
“Poetry is something that’s relevant to everyone’s life, whether they’re habitual readers of poetry or not,” Smith said ahead of her visit.
She’ll complete her New Mexico trip with a visit to Santa Clara Pueblo, north of Santa Fe, on Saturday. The pueblo is a Native American community along the Rio Grande near the Jemez Mountains, and is home to some famed Native American potters and artists.
Trips by Smith to the rural South are expected in the coming months before her tenure ends.
The trips are organized in coordination with congressional delegations and the Library of Congress, which appointed her poet laureate in June, saying she has shown readers how to think and feel through big ideas.
The honor comes with few obligations beyond readings in Washington, D.C., allowing appointees to establish individual projects and priorities as they aim to create appreciation for their craft.
In 2012, Smith’s “Life on Mars” won the Pulitzer Prize. Three years later, her memoir “Ordinary Light” was a National Book Award finalist for nonfiction.
She sees poetry as a means for readers to slow down, and think more passionately and deeply in a world where she says the lights, alerts and sounds of cellphones have changed how people act, connect and think.
In New Mexico, Smith hopes to create a conversation centered on the idea that poetry can help readers imagine seeing the world from another person’s point of view, according to the Library of Congress. Meanwhile, she’ll also be expanding her own perspective on the world and the West.
The daughter of an Air Force veteran, she was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and raised in Fairfield, California. She teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University.