The new poet laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith, visits the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center in Washington, D.C., last month.
Shawn Miller/Library of Congress
Tracy K. Smith knows many readers are intimidated by line breaks. She knows people don’t like identifying consonance, assonance or alliteration.
But Smith — the newly announced 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry of the United States — wants to help America push past that anxiety.
“What do you hear? What do you feel? What does this remind you of?” she asks NPR. “These are all real and valid reactions to a poem.”
The poet laureate is appointed by the librarian of Congress and fills the role for a year. Smith takes the mantle from Juan Felipe Herrera, who has served two terms.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement that Smith’s work “brings history and memory to life” and “calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture.”
The job doesn’t come with a lengthy description. The Library of Congress “keeps to a modest minimum the specific official duties,” as the statement put it, so each new poet can have maximum freedom. But the library notes that many recent poet laureates have sought to expand the audience for poetry.