MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
I was reminded today of these lines from the poet William Carlos Williams: It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. I was thinking about that because we're starting an experiment on the program to find poetry in the news. Each month, we'll be bringing in a poet to spend the day with us at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and, at the end, to compose a poem reflecting on the day's news.
And to start our series off, we've invited Tracy K. Smith to be what we're calling our news poet. Her latest book of poems is titled "Life on Mars." And all day, Tracy has been here following us around, thinking about today's news and shaping that into verse. Tracy, welcome. It's been great having you here. How did it go?
TRACY K. SMITH: Oh, it's been delightful and a little terrifying also.
BLOCK: I was thinking this is sort of an unfair task to have you do a poem on command in such a limited amount of time and specifically to sort of be following on the headlines. Is that a weird position to be in for you?
SMITH: Well, only the time constraint, I think. I often find that news events are things I'm thinking about and wrestling with and trying to understand better. So generally, I find myself taking time and trying to maybe inform myself a little bit more about stories that have struck me in one way or another. And writing a poem is one of the first approaches that I take to - trying to understand something a little bit better.
BLOCK: Huh. When it came to actually sitting down and starting to write, how did you have the germ of an idea? What was the trigger for you?
SMITH: I find that it's easiest to get into a poem if I can find a particular subjective point of view. And so one of the stories in today's news about Nigerian southerners leaving the north in an attempt to kind of escape violence really struck a chord because of the women's voices that were quoted in the story. And so the sense of individual lives and even just individual bodies gave me a starting point.
BLOCK: Great. Well, Tracy K. Smith, let's listen to the poem that you came up with today.
SMITH: "New Road Station." History is in a hurry. It moves like a woman, corralling her children onto a crowded bus. History spits go, go, go, lurching at the horizon, hammering the driver's headrest with her fist. Nothing else moves. The flies settle in place, watching with their million eyes, never bored. The crows strike their bargain with the breeze. They cluck and caw at the women in their frenzy, the ones who suck their teeth, whose skirts are bathed in mud. But history is not a woman, and it is not the crowd forming in a square.
It is not the bright swarm of voices chanting no and now, or even the rapt silence of a room where a film of history is right now being screened. Perhaps history is the bus that will only wait so long before cranking its engine and barreling down the road. Maybe it is the voice coming in through the radio, like a long distance call, or the child in the crook of his mother's arm who believes history must sleep inside a tomb or the belly of a bomb.
BLOCK: That's the poem "New Road Station" written today here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED by Tracy K. Smith. Tracy, thanks so much for coming in.
SMITH: Thank you.
BLOCK: And stay tuned: Once a month, we plan to invite a poet into our process, and we'll bring you their lyrical impression of the day's news.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.