Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate, Brings Her Podcast to Public Radio | Modern Society of USA

Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate, Brings Her Podcast to Public Radio

Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate, Brings Her Podcast to Public Radio

Ever since Tracy K. Smith became the United States poet laureate in 2017, she has been hosting readings big and small in all corners of the country.

Now she is spreading poetry through the air waves.

Starting Jan. 14, her podcast, “The Slowdown,” will be broadcast on public radio stations in seven cities, including San Francisco, Honolulu and Charleston, W. Va.

Produced by American Public Media with funding by the Poetry Foundation and support from the Library of Congress, “The Slowdown” debuted as a five-minute weekday podcast in late November. It’s available to stream on iTunes, Google Podcasts and other platforms. In each episode, Ms. Smith introduces, and then reads, a poem of her choosing.

The idea for the podcast arose last year while she was visiting towns as part of a reading series called “American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities.”

She started to feel guilty, she said, that the experience of striking up a dialogue about poetry with complete strangers was hers alone.

“Broadcast seemed like a way of sharing that more widely,” Ms. Smith said.

“The Slowdown” is “a conversation between the listener and whatever poem is up for the day,” she added.

Ms. Smith was inspired, she said, by her “21st Century worry” of living in an age of technology that favors impatience and indulgence over vulnerability and curiosity.

“I thought ‘The Slowdown’ can be a tiny little daily antidote to that,” she said. “It can say, ‘Can we just get quiet for a minute? Can we just listen to actual words that are employed with a great deal of focus and urgency?’”

Ms. Smith highlights works by American poets that she believes can stand on their own and that can be accessible aurally. Having a variety of voices has come naturally.

Some poets, she has long admired. Others are newer to her. “It just seems like the most exciting poetry that’s being written right now is coming from every direction,” she said.

Most of the poets she features on her podcast are contemporary — upcoming episodes feature Victoria Chang, Kamilah Aisha Moon and Jacob Saenz, to name a few — but listeners may also hear classics like Shakespeare or George Herbert.

Robert Casper, the head of the Poetry and Literary Center at the Library of Congress, said he looks forward to seeing not only what Ms. Smith “will bring to the broadcast of each of those poems, but how different people across the country will interpret those poems differently.”

Ms. Smith’s final event as poet laureate will be a gathering moderated by Jennifer Benka, the executive director of the Academy of American Poets, where five state and regional poets laureate will reflect on their positions. Once her term comes to an end in April, Ms. Smith said, she will most likely want to write about what she has learned in the last two years.

“There’s a lot that I haven’t brought into language yet,” she said.

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