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May 19, 2019


#Poetry Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith

by N@ncy



  1. I’m reading this book very slowly.
  2. I will review a few poems at a time
  3. because I want to give each poem the attention it deserves.
  4. I loved the explanation I learned in
  5. “How Does a Poem Mean?
  6. …about the beauty of poetry and
  7. …the technical sources of this beauty...
  8. by John Ciardi (1916-1986)  who was a
  9. poet, professor Harvard, Rutgers University.
  10. “Greeting cards are pretty…no card is beautiful.”
  11. In Ciardi’s book he teaches the difference between
  12. pretty (greeting card)….and beautiful (poetry)


Comments after my first reading of all the poems in the train:

  1. I read all the poems…could not find any emotional ‘feeling’
  2. with this collection.
  3. I was so disappointed and was about to give this book a 2 score.
  4. Then I told myself…go to bed…sleep on it.
  5. Poet Laureate USA, graduate of Harvard,
  6. …studied with the eminent Helen Vendler (see Google)
  7. and professor at Princeton University
  8. …Smith  MUST be doing something right.
  9. I’m just to blind to see it!
  10. I start a re-read of each poem today!
  11. #GiveBookAChance



Garden of Eden (1 stanza 25 lines)

My reaction: (….personal poem)

  1. Poem describes Smith’s joy of shopping in local Brooklyn Market.
  2. After some research
  3. …a critic claims she is commenting on capitalism in USA.
  4. What?
  5. Is it me…or do pundits go out of their way and try to find the most
  6. erudite explanation for every poem.
  7. The girl just likes some retail therapy…we all do!
  8. Smith mentions:
  9. “Where I seldom shopped,
  10. Only after therapy”.
  11. Shopping in an European Market store…
  12. filled with warmth, abundance and
  13. baskets of colorful and fragrant vegetables and fruit
  14. …foreign cheeses, glossy pasteries,
  15. teas, coffees.
  16. This  “Garden of Eden…is the BEST therapy
  17. Close reading of language:
  18. oxymoron “desolate luxury”
  19. alliteration: “bag of black beluga lentils…”
  20. Assonant rhyme – rhyming of vowels iwith different consonants.
  • “Everyone I knew as living
  • The same desolate luxury
  • Each ashamed of the same thing
  • Innocence and privacy.”


  1. I am unable to discover the hidden meaning of a poem
  2. without the help of  pundits and critics.
  3. In this poem…one sees a message about capitalism
  4. the other see a strong Biblical allusion…I see the
  5. therapeutic  effect of retail-therapy!


The Angels (10 stanzas, 40 lines)

My reaction:  (difficult poem to process…..)

  1. The first 5 stanza’s described
  2. 2 angels in speaker’s motel room.
  3. (clothes, their smell, playing with deck of cards)
  4. They even speak!


  1. “Quake, then fools, and fall away
  2. What God do you imagine we obey?”
  3. Annunciators of death?
  4. “Emissaries for something I needed to see.”


  1. In the last 3 stanza’s are mentioned tree, branches,rain, wind
  2. boulders, mounds of earth, rust-stained pipe
  3. …and “Bright a whorl so dangerous and near”.
  4. Whorl: form that coils, swirls, spirals…..( metaphor for death?)
  5. #Stumped…but trying hard to understand the poem!



  1. My problem I was looking for an object
  2. ….and missed the idea
  3. …inspired by her teacher Lucille Clifton at Columbia University.
  4. Smith was letting strange poems come to her,
  5. as if from outside her own mind —
  6. poems that were telling her about the future.
  7. This conclusion is absolutely
  8. …not apparent by just reading the poem.
  9. I had to do some research about The Angels
  10. …otherwise I’d still be stumped!
  11. Smith was still trying to work though a period of
  12. grief  after losing her mother.
  13. In a class Smith learned from teacher Lucille Clifton
  14. let other voices reach her.
  15. Clifton had just lost her husband and was intimating
  16. …that her dead husband was not exactly dead.
  17. Tracy Smith recalls:
  18. “I remember her saying that there is energy all around us,
  19. communicating with us — if only we could listen,”
  20. In this poem Smith is
  21. indicating a rock (boulder), tree swaying
  22. in the wind, rust-stained pipe…an owl
  23. …are trying to communicate with her.


Last thoughts:

  1. It took me a week to read 32 poems.
  2. Part 1 and Part 3:  are more personal
  3. …accessible but still you need to research
  4. reviews on internet and Tracy K. Smith’s back round
  5. to understand the meaning hidden in layers of language.
  6. Part 2: These are called founded poems and erasure poems
  7. (see Google). Smith uses documents, letters   written by
  8. black African Americans during the Civil War period
  9. …husbands writing wives, soldiers requesting their  pension etc.
  10. #MyJourneyInPoetryContinues


Read more from poetry
5 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 19 2019

    I just bought this! Looking forward to it.


    • May 19 2019

      I hope you enjoy it.
      I had to learn to read this poetry slowly.
      Let it sink in…


  2. May 20 2019

    I bought this last year after it got rave reviews in the US followed by similar praise in the UK. I liked some of it and in places it did make me think but for me her collection didn’t have the same impact as the recent stuff by Sharon Olds that I thought was wonderful! And like you I read poetry slowly and frequently repeatedly!


    • May 20 2019

      Reading Sharon Olds poems is like hearing a clap of thunder….it shakes you to the core.
      Reading this collection by T. Smith is like standing in a drizzle…you feel something (wet)…not really purifying and all you remember is damp annoying clothes.
      Olds is visceral, intimate.
      Smith is reasoned, cerebral
      …although it is said that her collection Life on Mars in much better than this book.


      • May 20 2019

        I like your descriptions of both – think you’ve got them spot on!!

        Liked by 1 person

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