Tracy K. Smith was named Poet Laureate, in 2017, right after the most divisive election of our time. She could have spent her two-year appointment writing and enjoying a nice office in the Library of Congress, but she felt poetry might be able to help mend some of the divisions that the election had highlighted. Her plan was this: to put together a collection of poems from living poets, called “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time,” that she felt were in some way relevant to our moment, and to hit the road—visiting community centers, senior centers, prisons, and colleges. While serving as Poet Laureate, Smith estimates that she travelled one or two nights every week, reading poems written by herself and others, and discussing them with groups of people. “It was exhausting, and exhilarating, and it was probably the best thing I could have done as an American,” she told The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Kevin Young.
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