In her memoir, “Ordinary Light,” the poet Tracy K. Smith describes reading a poem by Emily Dickinson in her fifth-grade class and feeling a flash of recognition, as if she were “privy to magic.”
“I couldn’t help but memorize a poem whose meter had worked upon me quickly and in a way I didn’t quite yet understand,” she writes. “Its rhyme scheme cemented, for me, a new sense of inevitability.”
Soon after, Ms. Smith wrote a short poem, “Humor,” and showed it to her teacher, who urged her to keep writing.
More than 30 years later, Ms. Smith has published three volumes of poetry and collected some of the field’s most prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
Now the Library of Congress has named Ms. Smith its new poet laureate, the nation’s highest honor in that field. With the appointment, announced on Wednesday, Ms. Smith will take on a role held by some of the country’s most revered poets, among them Rita Dove, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, W. S. Merwin, Charles Simic and most recently, Juan Felipe Herrera.
Ms. Smith, 45, said she planned to use the position to be a literary evangelist of sorts, by visiting small towns and rural areas to hold poetry events.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to take what I consider to be the good news of poetry to parts of the country where literary festivals don’t always go,” she said. “Poetry is something that’s relevant to everyone’s life, whether they’re habitual readers of poetry or not.”
Ms. Smith is the 22nd poet to take on the position, which dates to 1937 and is officially titled poet laureate consultant in poetry. Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, said that she had been drawn to Ms. Smith’s work because of the way her poems blended personal observations and experiences with weightier, universal themes.
“She takes on issues like death and spirituality and history and makes them relatable,” Ms. Hayden said. “These aren’t simple poems, but they are direct, and you can get into them based on your experience.”