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Tracy K. Smith

A presentation and analysis of poems by Tracy K. Smith.

Isaac Swisher

on 17 September 2014

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Transcript of Tracy K. Smith

By Brennan Edwards, Annie Bartrom, Aaron Birnbaum, & Isaac Swisher
Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith is an African American writer who was born in Boston, MA. in 1972. She was raised and lived there until she went to Harvard and earned her BA. Smith has published 3 books of poetry, each having won an award. Smith currently lives in Brooklyn, teaches at Princeton University, and tours the country to talk to people about her writing.
To begin, I’ll point out the obvious: The title was sarcasm. Unless Smith or the speaker somehow found joy or peace in being “hungry all the time”, which is very unlikely, the title of this snapshot of a poem was meant to be sarcastic. Living “on coffee and bread” is not what most people would think of living well. However, it does give some comic relief from the negative tone of the poem. It lightened up the poem.
The rhythm of the poem was fluid, as if it was part of a casual conversation. At times, this was broken by a line, but because of the punctuation choices, it leans toward the rhythm of a conversation. There are a lack of punctuation marks in general, and the most frequent are commas. The commas encourage the reader to avoid stopping until the end of the poem. Maybe this is a subtle reference to the kind of straightforward determination to press on to the end by the speaker, having such a difficult lifestyle.
The imagery in this small poem shows very clearly the type of environment and troubles the speaker had to experience. “Coffee and bread” is as an everyday meal is a vivid indication of poverty. She makes it even more clear with “walking to work on payday”, which is usually after stretching money out over days or even weeks. “Living one or two nights like everyone else on roast chicken and red wine” not only tells the reader exactly what she ate when she was at her poorest, but also hints that everyone else in her neighborhood might be doing similar things to survive. Also, red wine is alcoholic, so the speaker might have released from her worst stresses by drinking.
Figurative language isn’t frequent, but occurs twice. Money is compared to “a mysterious lover who went to buy milk and never came back”. Because this is such a specific example, the speaker might have endured having someone do this to her. Her money simply vanished at times. She compares herself to “a woman journeying for water from a village without a well”. Her neighborhood was the village, lacking money, and maybe even water. She was the woman on a journey, striving to obtain what her neighborhood did not have.
All of her syntax was meant to come across as casual and the tone is reminiscent. The speaker is telling about her past in a way that seems to be “I have been through many things, but I am a humble person because of this.” All of the lines are short, even though the entire poem is technically one extended sentence. Each line has around 7 words and 9-10 syllables, but this was not the focus of the poem.
All of her words choices (“money” “mysterious lover” “nostalgic” “coffee and bread” “hungry” walking” “journeying” “water” “village” “well” “nights” “roast chicken” “red wine”} depict her hardships in a very transparent way. Some words are the most basic way to describe something, but this could be for the purpose of looking back into a simpler time, when she was not as skilled with words as she was when she wrote the poem. None of the words would be out of reach for a child in elementary school, but I believe this was done with reason.

The Good Life Analysis
This poem is… unique. It is divided into five sections which total 104 lines and 47 stanzas. There is no rhyme scheme per se, but Smith does seem to rhyme two words in a single line or two lines at random intervals. In order to keep this analysis coherent, I’m going to take things one section at a time.
The first section has 8 3-line stanzas and ends with a 1-line stanza. The interesting rhyme pattern mentioned earlier is used more frequently in this section than in the others. Although it is clear that the author is alluding to some sort of large entity or force, I’m not totally sure what. It is also clear that Smith is suggesting that humanity is either not very adept or perhaps even decadent in some relation to said force. The first section uses moderate alliteration and a fairly consistent syntax and diction.
The second section is clearly a reference to someone, specifically Charlton Heston. Unfortunately I have no idea who that is. The line-length in this section is much longer than the first. It has 7 3-line stanzas with a little alliteration and a couple uses of the aforementioned rhyme scheme.
The third section definitely indicates a shift in the poem, as Smith starts using 1-line stanzas and stops using any alliteration or rhyme. The stanza seems heavily focused on outer space. It seems to be asking about what aliens might think about the possibility of there being other life, just as we do. The significance of this question escapes me, but it is there.
The fourth section indicates yet another shift since now there are three stanzas, each with a different amount of lines. This section goes from outer space to specifically Kubrick’s famous movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The random rhyming comes in again as the poem seems to move towards its original style.
The fifth and last section returns to the original style of the poem, but continues with the space metaphor. Only now the poem is talking about the speaker’s father, taking a sudden shift into the first-person point of view. This clearly was done so as to tie in the entire poem to some personal experience of the speaker. There also seems to be a reference to nuclear warfare, described as “The Button”

My God, It's Full Of Stars Analysis
In Tracy K. Smith’s poem I Don’t Miss It, she portrays a lot of strong poetic elements. For starters, it just has a very good flow. The stanzas are set up so you almost are left hanging, having and wanting to go onto the next one quickly. She sets up the line breaks so that some end incomplete, and some end in the middle, so you have to go onto the next stanza to see what she is trying to say. In doing this, it gives the poem the variation it needs to flow successfully in the way that she wanted it to. The point of view is first person, and it is obvious that Smith or the narrator has a very strong emotion that is overcoming them. When she says the line “To catch your key in the door and the scamper of feeling in my chest,” I could feel the emotion and imagine the feeling that she got in her heart when she heard the person that she loved walking through the door. With that being said, imagery is also a very big theme in her poetry. She uses a lot of descriptive phrases as examples in this poem. When she says the line “my smoke climbing the walls while the hours fall,” I can imagine a person sitting in their room, maybe in a chair, with a cigarette burning, just absent mindedly staring at the smoke that is billowing out and being pulled up towards the ceiling. The poem doesn’t have any specific rhyme, so in that sense it is free verse. I do not think that the poem itself is free verse because it has definite stanzas and a certain sentence structure. In the end, it is a very well put poem that is clearly written by a very educational person.
I Don't Miss It Analysis
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