[image-1] Today Marcus Amaker, Charleston’s poet laureate — and this city’s resident expert on all things spoken word — was mentioned in a New York Times article, “Tracy K. Smith, America’s Poet Laureate, Is a Woman with a Mission.” Amaker recently opened for Smith during her tour of small towns, where she stopped in Adams Run, S.C. In a blog post after the event (which also featured South Carolina poet laureate, Marjory Wentworth), Amaker excitedly wrote, “I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE IT.” (We can).
In today’s NYT piece, writer Ruth Franklin explores the question: Can bringing poetry to the masses be an antidote to our toxic civic culture? The piece describes Smith’s role as the country’s poet laureate, and her current project:
The role is open to interpretation — working under the auspices of the Library of Congress, a nonpartisan institution, each laureate is given a stipend of $35,000 and support to pursue a project of his or her choosing. Smith, the fifth African-American to hold the title, has put an unexpected spin on it. She is taking poetry on the road around the nation, focusing primarily on rural areas where most writers are unlikely to visit. “This is a strange period where, nationally, we’re being reminded or convinced of the great divisions that separate coastal and urban communities from the central and rural communities,” she said as we started out. At 46, with wide brown eyes and springy curls, she is calm and authoritative. “I’ve always distrusted that,” she continued. “I think there are lots of places where we have something very clear, compelling and welcome to say to one another.”
On her small town tour, Smith visited Lake City, S.C. (best know in the arts world for hosting the yearly art festival and competition, ArtFields), where she spoke at a church, reading from her poem, “Wade in the Water,” inspired by a performance she’d attended last year by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters.
Smith visited Summerton, S.C., where “most of the town” came to hear her speak at Summerton High School.
Franklin writes, “At all of Smith’s South Carolina readings, her audiences were clearly moved by the sight of a female African-American poet who spoke to their history — a sight they did not take for granted. And they were moved as well by the symbolism of Smith’s role as the official spokeswoman for poetry in the United States.”
Smith eventually made her way to Adams Run, where she performed at the Wiltown Community Center. There, Amaker said, “Tracy’s making poetry cool.” So are you, Marcus, so are you.