I had the privilege and pleasure recently of hearing, and even meeting briefly, the poet laureate of the United States, Tracy K. Smith.

The first question, of course, is: How does a poet laureate (and Pulitzer Prize winner) end up in Franklin, Indiana, reading her work to an audience of 100 or so at the local public library? Ms. Smith answered the question to some extent by commenting that she likes to get away from the East Coast and urban areas to have conversations about writing in more rural areas. A library employee was a little more specific. Ms. Smith, a professor at Princeton University, had been in South Bend, Indiana, home of Notre Dame, and then at Indiana University, where arrangements had been made for the visit to Franklin.

I have to confess that I wasn’t familiar with her work or even that she had been the national poet laureate since 2017. Once I would have known, but I’ve been largely away from poetry in recent years. So I read up, and found her work quite good. But then something happened that moved her even higher in my estimation. As she began her program, I realized she was reading poems that I had dipped into on Google, and that I recognized instantly. Not only that, but in a sense I knew them and could anticipate what was coming. Her words were, in short, memorable—and one can’t say that of every poet, even some well-known ones.

She explained this a little when she discussed her working methods. She reads her work over carefully, chooses her words with care, and replaces language that might deter or bore a reader. In short, a highly professional writer who does the hard work this entails.

She is also a friendly person, who listens and responds graciously to questions. I think she must also be a fine teacher. Her students at Princeton are fortunate. And so were we in our small-town, midwestern library.

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