MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Depending on where you are right now, it might be drizzly. It might be chilly. There might even be snow here and there. But fear not, no matter the weather, it is almost April. And you know what that means, it's almost time for NPR poetry. This time every year, we call out to listeners, and we ask for your original poems via the Twitter hashtag #nprpoetry. And to help us kick off the project this year, we are joined by Tracy K. Smith. She's currently serving as poet laureate of the United States. Professor Smith, Tracy, thank you so much for joining us and helping us kick off the month.
TRACY K. SMITH: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for asking me.
MARTIN: You know, we spoke with you last year when you had just been named to the position, and I was asking, you know, what are poems for? And you told us that the things poems encourage us to acknowledge are more vital during times when we are up in arms about where we're going as a nation or where we're going as citizens. Over the course of your year and traveling and visiting with people, are you finding that other people feel that way? Do you still feel that way?
SMITH: I definitely still feel that way. More and more for me, it comes down to feeling the deep need for a little bit of introspection, time to think about what I feel away from all of the noise that's coming at us. And it's not just coming at us from news sources. It's coming from advertising and from the technology that we've invited into our lives. And I feel like being a whole and healthy person hinges to a great degree upon being able to turn that off and to listen to something that's older and wiser or deeper.
MARTIN: I want to mention that you have a new collection of poems coming out this month. It's called "Wade In The Water." Is there any way in which your experience as poet laureate has informed this work? And just tell us a little bit about it, if you don't mind.
SMITH: Well, it's a book that is thinking in different ways about compassion. How does a person go about learning to care about the lives of other people? And one of the places that I've looked for examples of when that has, and more often, hasn't happened is history. So there are a number of poems in the book that are threads of antebellum history in this country and seeing if some of those voices might be able to tell us something useful now. And then there are other poems that come out of my lived experience, you know, right here and now in the 21st century that are helping me to look more closely at the ways that I see or don't see other people.
MARTIN: Well, now you've told us a bit of what inspires you, but can you give us a few words to inspire the Twitter poets?
SMITH: Oh, I'll try. Well, I really believe that poetry lives everywhere. And as a writer, I give myself permission to look in all the crevices of my life for the questions and wishes that make poems happen for me, and so I hope that listeners will do that. And, you know, in the brief space of a tweet, there's a lot of real life and real thinking, and listening and seeing that you can take great advantage of.
MARTIN: Well, thanks for validating one of our rules, which is, this year, Twitter has changed their character limit, but we are sticking with the original rules. Poems must be original and they must be 140 characters or less. That's OK, right? I mean...
MARTIN: ...You can do something with that, right?
SMITH: Usually, I write a poem and I end up taking about 30 percent away. So, 140 characters is probably a good frame for something that can be really meaty and delightful.
MARTIN: All right, take it from the poet laureate. Tracy K. Smith, thank you so much for joining us.
SMITH: Oh, thank you.
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MARTIN: Starting tonight, you can tweet us @npratc with the hashtag #nprpoetry. And each week in April, a professional poet will monitor the hashtags and then come on the program to share some of the submissions that caught his or her eye. Jessica Care Moore is up first. She is an internationally acclaimed poet, playwright, and performance artist based in Detroit. Will your work be read on the air? There is only one way to find out, so get inspired, and get ready to tweet.
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