Cropper Series Showcases U.S. Poet Laureate's Powerful Prose

Cropper Series Showcases U.S. Poet Laureate's Powerful Prose

The University of San Diego and the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of English celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series by bringing current U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, to campus March 21. The event, which was held in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre, saw Smith read select poems to a capacity audience, share insights, field questions and sign copies of her books.

Introduced warmly by USD English and Creative Writing Professor and Cropper Writers Series Director Halina Duraj, PhD, Smith, who received the U.S. laureate designation in June 2017, was very gracious, kind and powerful in her poem choices and her conviction. Oftentimes, her choices lent themselves to understanding the world in the moment and where we as a society are going or seem to be heading. Many visited history, but with stories that educate as one listens, the topic made one feel they are present and invoked tremendous empathy.

As the U.S. Poet Laureate, Smith’s objective is to raise national consciousness and appreciation for the reading and writing of poetry. One of her major projects, stated in an article at the time of her appointment, is “taking poetry to audiences outside places where poets typically present their work.”

Said Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, when announcing Smith’s appointment: “It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching. Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths — all to better understand what makes us more human.”

Smith, born in Massachusetts and raised in Northern California, has a BA from Harvard, MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and a Stegner fellowship from Stanford from 1997-99. She’s currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities, and director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. She hosts American Public Media's daily radio program and podcast, The Slowdown. Smith has authored four books of poetry, starting with 2003's The Body's Question, which won the Cave Canem Prize for best first book by an African-American poet. Duende (2007), earned her the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award. Her third book, Life on Mars (2011) earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her fourth book, Wade in the Water, came out in 2018. Additionally, in 2014 she received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship and in 2015 she wrote a memoir, Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction.

While USD’s Kroc Theatre and an institution of higher education may not necessarily fit the meaning of an ‘outside place,’ Smith’s presence on this night delivered through her wise, memorable and brought-to-life poems. She engaged and enlightened the audience with her spoken words that induced deeper thinking, meaning and empowerment. Furthermore, Smith returned to USD’s campus the next day and spent time with students in Assistant Professor of English Dr. Malachi Black's English 401 poetry class.

At USD on March 21, Smith leaned heavily on material from Wade in the Water, reading Annunciation, Garden of Eden, Hill Country, The Angels, The United States Welcomes You, Declaration, and An Old Story.

Smith then answered questions from the audience. She was asked about poets who've inspired her and a little more about what her laureate position entails, but her best insights were about poetry’s relevance, both as a means to a more inclusive and diverse way of thinking and a medium to counter a tech-heavy world.

“I think what poems are really good at doing is pulling us out of our own perspectives, out of our own vocabulary and making us beholden to another way of looking at the world,” Smith said.

She added that in the 21st century, “more and more, I think poetry is a way of staying human in a world where we are encouraged to allow our vocabulary for friendship, life and love and self-worth to be shaped, not just by technology, but products that technology is inserted. Poetry says you’re not the most important person in the room. There’s nothing else whose voice in life is as valuable and that’s the opposite of what commercials tell us. Poetry, language and the mode of the language it operates in, is one way to maintain a real and conscious action to what is real in the world. I think we need that for lots of reasons.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Smith’s appearance marked the close of the 2018-19 Cropper Memorial Writers series. It was created to inspire the creative writer in all of us. The Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers series and The Lindsay J. Cropper Center for Creative Writing were established in 2004 by Barrie and Dorothy Cropper in memory of their daughter Lindsay, an alumna of USD, English major and aspiring writer. Dorothy Cropper was in attendance for Smith’s talk on March 21. Learn more about the Cropper program's series and past participants.

Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate, was the special guest speaker for the March 21 Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series event. It recognized the 15th anniversary of the USD program.Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate, was the special guest speaker for the March 21 Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series event. It recognized the 15th anniversary of the USD program.

Contact Information