American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities

I’m Tracy K. Smith, 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States. Welcome to “American Conversations,” where you can find out more about the people I’ve met and places I’ve been during my travels through rural America.

When I was first appointed to this post, I dreamed of using poetry as a way of building a bridge between people in cities and university towns, where poetry festivals and reading series are quite common, and those in rural parts of the United States, where such programming doesn’t often reach. Because poems put us in touch with our most powerful memories, feelings, questions and wishes, I imagined that talking about poems might be a way of leaping past small-talk and collapsing the distance between strangers. On each of my trips so far, poetry has done just that. I’ve felt immensely lucky to have been welcomed into so many warm and vibrant communities, but in some ways it’s been a private pleasure. I hope to use this website as a way to share this experience with the rest of America. 

During my first year as Poet Laureate, I edited an anthology called “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time.” It features fifty poems by fifty contemporary American poets whose voices, recollections and responses to life in this country have been the fodder for each of the “American Conversations” sessions. I think this slim book packs a punch both for readers new to poetry, who might be welcomed by voices and topics that are familiar, as well as for longtime lovers of poetry, who might be excited to discover poems that use language and form in new and surprising ways. I think of “American Journal” as a 21st Century prayer book, a testament to the ways that poems can shed meaningful light upon the most vivid and powerful aspects of our lives.

“American Conversations” chronicles my first-term trips to New Mexico, Kentucky and South Carolina, and it will continue to track my adventures with poetry in Alaska, South Dakota, Maine and Louisiana. You’ll find photos, audio recordings, interviews, poetry commentary and reflections on my time on the road. We’ll be adding more content throughout the rest of my second term, so check in periodically for updates.

With warmest wishes,
Tracy K. Smith


January 11-13, 2018

February 23-24, 2018

March 16-17, 2018

August 27-29, 2018

October 5-6, 2018

November 1-2, 2018

December 14-15, 2018

Visits are part of a series of programs organized with Center for the Book state affiliates, state humanities councils and congressional offices. Click on the states above to learn more.