Poetry Friday Roundup is Here–Celebrating Tracy K. Smith at the Chicago Public Library


Happy Poetry Friday–The Roundup is here!

On Saturday, April 27, 2019, I had the privilege and honor of hearing Tracy K. Smith, our  22nd US Poet Laureate at the Chicago Public Library’s Poetry Fest. A compelling poet, she is as warm, sharing, and inviting as all her images portray her. I was captured and moved by her talk and poetry readings.

She read from Life on Mars, 2011, which received a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her book asks these questions, ” What do we belong to?” and What are we?” She also read from Wade in the Water, 2018. Wade in the Water includes poems from letters that black soldiers wrote to family members and to the President; correspondence between slave owners; threats to the environment, and more.


By Tracy K. Smith

for the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters

One of the women greeted me.
I love you, she said. She didn’t
Know me, but I believed her,
And a terrible new ache
Rolled over in my chest,
Like in a room where the drapes
Have been swept back. I love you,
I love you, as she continued
Down the hall past other strangers,
Each feeling pierced suddenly
By pillars of heavy light.
I love you, throughout
The performance, in every
Handclap, every stomp.
I love you in the rusted iron
Chains someone was made
To drag until love let them be
Unclasped and left empty
In the center of the ring.
I love you in the water
Where they pretended to wade,
Read the rest of the poem here and listen to Tracy K. Smith recite it below.

I also want to share one of Tracy K. Smith’s recordings from The Slowdown. The Slowdown is a podcast done weekdays by Smith where, she “delivers a different way to see the world – through poetry. Produced in partnership with the Library of Congress and the Poetry Foundation.” Below I’ve included the last portion of the poem, Beehive, by Jean Toomer, Here’s a link to The Slowdown site, look for the BEEHIVE recorded on May 30, 2019.


By Jean Toomer

Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb,
And I, a drone,
Lying on my back,
Lipping honey,
Getting drunk with that silver honey,
Wish that I might fly out past the moon
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.
Read the beginning part of the poem here.

1a-Bee in flower- 6-1-2019

I wanted to write a poem that would complement some of the poems I’ve shared here. I felt a pull to write about the tragic life events that came sharply in focus last week with another mass shooting– Tracy K. Smith weaves life both contemporary and historical into her poems, sometimes subtlety and sometimes frankly–my poem follows more of the later form. In her talk, she also shared a bit about her system for writing, which included, (paraphrased) … start your poem with a “question or itch,” try and get traction, see if the sound or image can move forward. Here’s my itch…


It’s almost summer
Greens growing everywhere
Flowers of all colors have finally come out
Breathing sighs of beauty
Waiting for your breath to breathe in,
But the guns never seem to go away…

12 lives lost in Virginia Beach
Take a minute think about them–
Their brother, mothers, friends,
Another mass shooting
Guns Kill–that’s their purpose
Take them away and they can’t kill.
How can we sweep this aside–
Life moves on–
Your daughter texts you about getting home
But the guns never seem to go away…

7 lives lost in Chicago
Over Memorial Day weekend.
With 43 individuals shot
–Individuals– we need people
Seen and to see themselves
As individuals, with value and worth.
Chicago has a new woman Mayor
She said of this event, it’s going to take a long time…
We all have to “dig down deeper and ask ourselves
what we can do to step up to stem the violence.”
But the guns never seem to go away…

Guns Kill–that’s their purpose
Take them away and they can’t kill.
Take them away and individuals might
Start seeing some of summer’s greens
Waiting for their breath to breathe in,
Waiting for their breath to begin to breathe…

© 2019 Michelle Kogan

Please add your links below so all can partake of all the poetry goodness for this week!

Visit Renée LaTulippe’s site No Water River to find out more about what Poetry Friday is.

Also Tabatha Yeatts at her site The opposite of Indifference has a request:

“Send me links to your posts if they are poems about/to/inspired by Naomi Shihab Nye!”

Here’s the post that I will be adding them to:


About Michelle Kogan Art, Illustration, & Writing

Michelle Kogan is an artist, illustrator, instructor, and writer, creating colorful allegorical figure, flora and fauna paintings and children's illustrations, which have a sensitivity to endangered species, and the environment. She is an art instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Evanston Art Center and offers Plein Air Painting Workshops at nature venues in the Chicago area including the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Lurie Gardens at Millennium Park. Visit her online Etsy Shop at: http://www.MichelleKoganFineArt.etsy.com and her website: http://www.michellekogan.com
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45 Responses to Poetry Friday Roundup is Here–Celebrating Tracy K. Smith at the Chicago Public Library

  1. Linda M. says:

    Michelle! My post this week is sharing how much I love and am changed by The Slowdown with Tracy K. Smith! You cannot imagine my giggle of delight when I popped over to your blog this evening. I’m so envious that you got to enjoy hearing her in person. So neat! Thank you for sharing some of her work here. The Slowdown highlights the work of other poets…but I am really pleased to read Wade in the Water here. Smith is so layered. She sounds like an old soul and a favorite cousin at the same time each morning when I listen to her. I’ll bet you could see/feel that too. Thank you for hosting this week. Your yellow and green are especially cheerful. I love the combination of those colors.

  2. jama says:

    Thanks for sharing Smith’s poem and about her podcast (which I didn’t know about), and also for your powerful poem about gun violence. How lucky you were to see and hear Tracy in person! Thanks so much for hosting this week.

  3. maryleehahn says:

    Wow. Your poem is so powerful. I love the repetition and how you brought the beginning back at the end. Thanks for hosting and for the heads up about that podcast. I’ve been hearing about it. Now I just need to subscribe and listen!

  4. I recently added The Slowdown to my morning podcast routine — along with Bird Note. I am so enjoying “getting to know” our Poet Laureate, her selected poems, and poets I am sometimes familiar with, but often not. Many thanks for hosting this week. Cheers! — Christie

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  6. Dear Michelle ~ oh, the bounty of things which can sustain us! Sometimes it feels like too much, too much, and sometimes, as when I read the parts of Tracy Smith’s poems and your own green poem, I want/need media to keep feeding me. It’s a balance: between walking away from other voices so I can hear nature and my own voice…and sticking around until to hear the last word. And I LOVE the bee in your drawing!
    I’m in today with a belated appreciation of Paul B. Janeczko and of his beautiful spring-time anthology, THE PROPER WAY TO MEET A HEDGEHOG–and Other How-To Poems. There are so many in the Kidlitosphere who have poems in this collection–wowza!

  7. Powerful poems, Michelle – thanks for sharing! There’s a lot of emotion flowing through these. Thanks also for hosting today! (My link goes live shortly after midnight)

  8. cvarsalona says:

    The question you pose, “What we can do to step up to stem the violence”, is such a troubling one because it needs to be asked in this crazy world. You handled the issue of gun violence beautifully as you placed its horror against the beauty of summer’s greenery. Thank you for sharing Smith’s poem for us to read also. I am diligently trying to finish the Abundant Autumn Gallery despite tech and connectivity issues and other facets of life so maybe it will surface at the end of the PF weekend. Thanks for gorgeous drawing, too.

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  10. lindabaie says:

    Thank you for hosting with this lovely, poignant post. I did not know of Tracy’s podcast either! Your poem, wow. I have been thinking every day of those taken last week, every day a new tragedy. I loved your poem, filled with hope and wishes, too, that “and individuals might
    Start seeing some of summer’s greens. . .”

  11. tee+d says:

    Ah, The Slowdown. Isn’t it a gift? Thank you for hosting. My link goes live tomorrow morning, but I’m up with a few Skinnys with my poetry sisters this month.

  12. Michelle Heidenrich Barnes says:

    What thought-provoking and powerful poems, Michelle! Your response is perfect. I love that your “itch” rounded out into a poem that speaks your mind and your heart. Thank you for hosting today!

  13. Rebecca Herzog says:

    Your poem is so powerful, Michelle!. Thank you for sharing. And thanks for sharing Tracy Smith’s poetry. My link in the link up will go live Friday morning.

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  16. andisibley says:

    Really enjoying Smith’s poetry. Thanks for the shout out to her podcast! And I am moved by your gun violence poem. Every voice counts.

  17. Thanks for sharing these, Michelle–I especially like your repeated lines. How many times must they be repeated before they are listened to, acted on? Sigh…

  18. Kay Mcgriff says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience learning from Tracy K. Smith. I’ll be checking out her podcast and pondering her poems. Your poem is so powerful. When will learn to see each other as individuals with worth and value. When we value individual lives over individual rights, we will be moving foward.

  19. cweichel says:

    Thank you for all of this Michelle. Because I am from Canada, I am learning about many American poets since I joined Poetry Friday. I didn’t know about Tracy K. Smith or Jean Toomer! I’ll try to listen to the podcast.
    Your poem today breaks my heart. There have been too many shootings.
    Thanks also for hosting. My poem is here https://dickenslibrary.blogspot.com/2019/06/poetry-friday-june-7-2019.html.

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  22. I loved the podcast, and the way she read “I love you” with such matter-of-fact-ness. As if it were actually surprising that more people don’t say it, too. And your poem brought tears to my eyes.

  23. “Guns Kill–that’s their purpose
    Take them away and they can’t kill.”

    Sometimes it is hard to see the greens and breathe with so much shooting. Thank you for your poem. I am grateful for Tracy Smith’s work and humanity and podcast too. xx

  24. haitiruth says:

    Thanks for hosting and for the poems you shared. Happy Poetry Friday! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

  25. Dear Michelle! Appreciations for your teaching me about the Slowdown podcast with the LOC & Tracy K. Smith. And also, appreciations for your sharing so beautifully in poetry & art
    about hearing this potent poet read.
    I am so happy you were able to luxuriate in that audience time. I think it will embrace you in many of your future creative efforts.

    My connection to your post today is that last fall, as I recovered from surgery, my hubby brought home from work a goody bag created by his law professor colleagues, of dear things a poem reader & maker would love – it included WADE IN THE WATER! I keep returning to Tracy K. Smith’s poem “Annunciation,” which says what I feel about our over developed over built extravagances.

    Happy weekend & more appreciations.

    (I hope this ‘sticks” here via the WordPress link as I tried to comment via Google & I must have messed up – didn’t “take.”)

  26. Thanks for hosting! I always love seeing your art! Today’s poem is about being tired. I hiked a ten acre property today for work and then hiked another property on a 2 mile trail for enjoyment. It was 90 degrees. Although my poem does not tell what I did, it does convey that I am tired. Hopefully, I’ll have energy tomorrow! https://theapplesinmyorchard.com/2019/06/07/i-should-be/

  27. Susan Bruck says:

    Hi Michelle. Thanks for hosting this week. And thanks for sharing such powerful poetry–your own, Tracy K. Smith’s, and Jean Toomer’s.
    I love the contrast in your poem between summer greens, life’s ordinary moments and the shock of gun violence-it’s powerful and sad–and all too true.
    I also enjoyed hearing Tracy Smith read her poem. I love that song–Wade in the Water. I was always curious about the line in the song-“God’s gonna trouble the water” and I love how she wove that into her poem.

  28. Thank you for hosting, Michelle! How lucky for you to hear Tracy K. Smith read and talk about her poetry! “Wade in the Water” is such a powerful poem and collection. Your poem is amazing! I love how you’ve ended with hope, that you bring us back to the breath and the urge to “Start seeing some of summer’s greens.”

  29. margaretsmn says:

    Thanks for hosting. I have The Slowdown on my Stitcher and need to listen to them all. I heard Tracy K. Smith at the National Book Festival last fall. She’s amazing and so accessible in her poetry. Your poem is profound. I wonder sometimes how we can embrace beauty when there is so much hate in the world, but then I realize it’s the only way through.

  30. Karen Edmisten says:

    Wonderful stuff from Tracy K. Smith — I love The Slowdown, too. What a gift that you had the chance to see and hear her.

    The repetition in your poem echoes the repetition of these horrific events, and the hollow responses about what can be done, but there certainly are simpler answers than some people and organizations would have us believe.

  31. Tabatha says:

    Hi Michelle! Starting your poem with an itch…I like that 🙂
    “How can we sweep this aside” — good question! Maybe we can keep moving toward the point where we don’t.
    Thanks for sharing The Slowdown and for hosting!

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