The end of Tracy K. Smith’s reading in the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff building sounded more like the wrap up of a comedy set than the conclusion of a visit from the U.S. poet laureate.
For most of Wednesday evening’s event, as Smith read poems from her book, “Wade in the Water,” the audience was thoughtfully reserved, and the end of poems were marked by polite applause and studious “hmms.”
The subject matter of Smith’s poems ranged from Texas hill country to her then 4 1/2 -year-old daughter to real-life complaints from black Civil War soldiers who never received pension.
When Smith asked the audience to turn their attention to copies of a 50-poem anthology and consider “Let me tell you about my marvelous god” by Susan Stewart, conversation and laughter followed.
“What do you notice?” is a question Smith said she likes to ask her students at Princeton University. It’s also what she asked those in attendance.
Several seconds after Smith asked for feedback, less sheepish members of the audience had their hands up.
Some noticed the poet’s choice of descriptors, another mentioned the impression of circular movement created by the poem, and one audience member said the god described in the text seemed far from marvelous.
“You’re right,” Smith said. “Let’s close up shop.”
The deadpan answer drew loud laughs.
“The next time you have a party, put your cellphones in the trunk of the car and take out this, and see what happens,” Smith said and gestured to a copy of “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time.”
Copies of the anthology, which was selected by Smith, were given to many members of the audience.