What I have always liked about Smith’s poetry is her interest in other people’s lives. The lone self has been the sacred cow of lyric poetry since the ancient Greeks, and there’s no way to sever that link permanently, but a vacation now and then from self-absorption to look around and see what the rest of the human race has been up to can do wonders to one’s poetry ... The poems in Wade in the Water are full of memorable images nimbly put together by Smith’s exquisite sense of timing and her feel for the kind of language appropriate to the poem ... Wade in the Water is not only a political book. It asks how an artist might navigate the political and the personal, and the collection’s real strength lies in its many marvelous poems that are more private.
Can poetry contribute to the national dialogue in ways that both challenge and uplift? Tracy K. Smith’s Wade in the Water demonstrates that the answer is yes ... [Smith] shows tremendous range in these rich, humane poems as she shifts from lyricism to direct speech, from meditative passages to wry humor ... Smith brings great intelligence and sensitivity to her poems, leading readers deeper into other people’s stories — and ultimately into their own humanity.
Smith’s new book is scorching in both its steady cognizance of America’s original racial sins — open wounds that have had insectlike eggs repeatedly laid in them — and apprehension about history’s direction ... Wade in the Water is pinned together by a suite of found poems that employ near-verbatim the letters and statements of African-American Civil War veterans and their families. These historical poems have a homely, unvarnished sort of grace ... If this new book lacks some of the range and depth and allusiveness of that earlier book, well, she has battened down certain hatches.
Poetry requires acts of exquisite selection and distillation that Smith, poet laureate of the United States, performs with virtuosity and passion throughout her profoundly affecting fourth collection ... The sacred and the malevolent are astutely juxtaposed in this beautifully formed, deeply delving, and caring volume.
She is making visible the words of slaves and their owners, of African Americans enlisted in the civil war –these are found poems about people who were lost. Smith has pieced their correspondence together with the love of someone making a hand-stitched quilt ... The collection includes attractive, smaller-scale poems. Smith emerges as a poet in charge of her own creation myth and a recorder of destructive realities. Her offbeat, spiritual poems are her boldest – where it seems almost as though she is putting together a DIY Bible.
Wade, published in April, reads like a book a laureate should write; these are poems that draw on weighty subjects and hinge on ideas of belonging. From the United States’ dark chapters of slavery to present-day acts of racial violence, Smith’s pieces consistently match the largeness of their content. Hers are poems that insist on compassion and love—poems of many voices and places across America ... In Wade, Smith invites her readers to see America, and the world around them, via the eyes of a generous and attentive observer ... Though Smith’s work contains multitudes, she ultimately fixates on the notion of national identity in Wade ... Smith is this country’s poetic caretaker, calling both for collective reckoning and collective empathy.
Like a number of other poems in Wade in the Water, which is Smith’s most overtly political collection, 'Refuge' has a raspy and hortatory air, suggesting a communiqué rather than a private reflection. 'Declarations,' one of the book’s better efforts, proves more subtle ... Wade in the Water includes notes at the back to help explain what many of the poems are about. One feels a small sense of defeat at needing such a tutorial to grasp a poem, which perhaps ideally should be a self-contained thing.
The year 2017 was, I presume, an awkward, anxious moment to be named poet laureate of the United States. What the writer owes the collective and where she fits within it is a fraught question at the best of times, one subject to frequent border disputes. Yet Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith’s first collection since her appointment, considers the state of the union with characteristic grace ... Smith seems to want to show a country to itself, and a people — not just an American people, either. This can yield false notes (I could have done without the penis and rape metaphors in 'A Man’s World' and 'The World Is Your Beautiful Younger Sister,' respectively), but for the most part she is too attentive to overgeneralize. Some of the most striking poems here are the simplest.
Smith’s fourth book is the strongest and most wide-ranging she’s written. Many readers will be drawn to the series of poems here composed from the letters and statements of African-American soldiers in the Civil War and their dependents. This work is admirable, but it would be a mistake to overlook Smith’s growing command of the domestic poem, which presents unique and subtle challenges that are easy to underestimate.
U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith presents a clear-eyed portrait of the present, reconsiders the past and offers love as an ethical response to injustice ... A Pulitzer Prize recipient, Smith writes with political force and lyrical intimacy about current events.
...all readers will enjoy the diverse array of poems that range from personal reflections on family to statements on American industry, history, and slavery. Some are formal; some are rhymed; all are enjoyable ... Chapter II is the most poignant. It is a series of letters written by Civil War troops and their families, all of which include images of brutality, slavery, and death...The reader is almost driven to tears when reading these as they are rife with feelings of loss, sadness, despair, and fear—there is no joy ... Readers will be moved by this carefully crafted collection. It is entirely new and innovative. Wade in the Water is a treasure, a chest of historical gems, which offers spectacles for everyone to adore.
Wade in the Water surveys America and its history with an incisive, yet hopeful, honesty. By peeling back the present, Smith reveals the tendrilled roots of our nation’s grittier past ... Ultimately, Smith brings all of these concerns and voices together into a powerful collection. Bolstered by an array of sources, the poems gaze outward and observe with an incredibly perceptive eye. The past presses up against the present, and empathy hums consistently below as a driving force behind the collection’s explorations of religion, history, prejudice, and environmentalism.
Reading Wade in the Water is an experience unlike any I’ve had before from a book of poetry. The way in which she mixes narrative poems with found or erasure poetry is built to a memorable effect as the book progresses ... The themes of America’s history of slavery and love come back again and again in contrasting waves that push against one another but stay apart like oil and water. The ride is engaging as Smith keeps you in the middle where you know what is inevitable but are still entranced as you watch it all take place through her words.