Review: Wade in the Water: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

April 3, 2018
Wade in the Water: Poems, Tracy K. Smith, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Graywolf Press on April 3, 2018
Format Read: Hardcover Edition (88 pages)
Genre: Poetry/ Race/ Contemporary
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Publisher Requested
Wade in the Water: Poems
Even the men in black armor, the ones
Jangling handcuffs and keys, what else
Are they so buffered against, if not love’s blade
Sizing up the heart’s familiar meat?
We watch and grieve. We sleep, stir, eat.
Love: the heart sliced open, gutted, clean.
Love: naked almost in the everlasting street,
Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze.
—from “Unrest in Baton Rouge”

In Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith boldly ties America’s contemporary moment both to our nation’s fraught founding history and to a sense of the spirit, the everlasting. These are poems of sliding scale: some capture a flicker of song or memory; some collage an array of documents and voices; and some push past the known world into the haunted, the holy. Smith’s signature voice—inquisitive, lyrical, and wry—turns over what it means to be a citizen, a mother, and an artist in a culture arbitrated by wealth, men, and violence. Here, private utterance becomes part of a larger choral arrangement as the collection widens to include erasures of The Declaration of Independence and the correspondence between slave owners, a found poem comprised of evidence of corporate pollution and accounts of near-death experiences, a sequence of letters written by African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, and the survivors’ reports of recent immigrants and refugees. Wade in the Water is a potent and luminous book by one of America’s essential poets.



These poems are reflect how minorities in America have grappled with racism. Each piece pulls at your senses and challenges you to think more deeply about the world around you. The history of how black people survived slavery and reconstruction is often overlooked. In the poem "Unwritten" the use of real correspondence of African Americans while fighting in the Civil War and surviving after, let's us glimpse into the deep cavern of history that has not been written about or retold. The author uses precise language to cut through our defenses and makes us think of where I our sympathies lie.
"Can you imagine what will sound from us, what we'll rend and claim
When we find ourselves alone with all we've ever sought: our name?"
In "Theatrical Improvisation" the author uses excepts from Muslim women who were assaulted after the 2016 election and excerpts from a Nazi calling for a bloody civil war. In the poem the reader is granted a window into how people are acting out their hate to the detriment of everyone else. In this collection the poet laureate highlights her talent and uses her observations to create memorable and lasting art. Every poem packed a punch and some left me emotionally reeling.

 Recommended for readers who
-want to think deeply about race relations
-enjoy poetry about African American history
-read contemporary poetry inspired by current events

I received this book from Graywolf Press in exchange for an honest review.


TRACY K. SMITH is the author of two previous collections: Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essence Literary Award, and The Bodys Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also the recipient of the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award and a Whiting Writers Award, and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Smith is currently a protg in the Rolex Mentor and Protg Arts Initiative, and a member of the Creative Writing Faculty at Princeton University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.. Now the Library of Congress has named Ms. Smith its new poet laureate, the nation’s highest honor in that field.

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