“From coastal resiliency and sustainable green practices to the preservation of affordable housing, world-class public art, and vibrant, year-round programming in award-winning public spaces, Battery Park City leads the way in many of the measures that makes cities livable."

Raju Mann

President & CEO
  • 05/30
  • BPC People
  • Community


Title: Poet Laureate of the United States

Favorite BPC Spot: Poets House

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is –

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.

Excerpt from “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith always loved reading. As a small child she would always read ahead from her school books or those she had at home. She very early found herself turning to poetry; she didn’t always understand what she was reading about, but she loved how the words made her feel. It is Emily Dickinson in particular she recalls:

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?”

That may have been overstating things a bit. Today that small child has grown up to be Poet Laureate of the United States and poetry continues to speak to her. In addition to Dickinson, Smith also finds inspiration in contemporary poets like Linda Gregg, Kevin Young, Morgan Parker and Kiki Petrosino. She finds herself collecting voices, and the ones she returns to deepen as she listens to them longer.

Her connection with Battery Park City comes through Poets House, where she began visiting when she was a graduate student at Columbia University. The poetry community was her only community, and Poets House became “a place just to be and read and write, where I could become an insider in the city and devote more attention to my craft.” She began by attending all the programming it had to offer and matured to become someone who spoke and mentored there.

While Tracy has written a non-fiction book titled “Ordinary Light,” it is always poetry that comes most naturally to her as a meditative and spiritual practice. She loves the puzzle of building a poem: “Poems do a lot of work to guide you to a sense of healing and recognition – a sense of feeling, a sound that rises from emotion from a poem, can guide you to the senses of what’s at stake.”

It’s with similar sentiment that Tracy comments on Raining Poetry in BPC. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful idea,” that someone can walk down the street when it’s raining and be confronted with the “spontaneous offering” of a poem. “It’s nice to know that when the weather is conspiring against us we see poetry precisely because of that,” she reflects.

So, what does the Poet Laureate of the United States do for a hobby? Tracy laughs and responds, “I use to have hobbies, now I have children.”

Children, it would seem, are a poetry all their own.

Tracy K. Smith’s poem “My God, It’s Full of Stars” appears as part of BPCA’s Raining Poetry in BPC, a temporary public art project that on rainy days displays excerpts of poetry on the paths, plazas, and sidewalks of Battery Park City. You can find Tracy’s work near the Irish Hunger Memorial and Pier A Plaza

Excerpt copyright© 2011 by Tracy K. Smith, from Life on Mars. Used by permission of the author and Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org


Back to Blog Homepage