Tracy K. Smith’s Poetry Podcast Goes to Radio

Sarah Ahmad

Since its launch in November of last year, U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, The Slowdown, has been bringing five minutes of carefully curated poetry to subscribers each day. Starting this month the podcast is expanding its reach, airing on local public radio stations in several cities across the country, including San Francisco, Honolulu, Toledo, Lexington, Charleston, Spokane, and Southampton, New York.

Tracy K. Smith

(Credit: Christy Whitney)

Each episode of The Slowdown features a poem selected, introduced, and read by Smith. Featured poems have ranged from work by well-known contemporary poets—such as Patricia Smith’s “Hip-Hop Ghazal,” Ada Limón’s “The Raincoat,” and Aracelis Girmay’s “On Kindness”—to the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert’s “Love (III).” A full archive of episodes is available, and radio listeners can find the show’s specific airtime by visiting their local public radio station online.

Produced by American Public Media in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress, The Slowdown was created “to make a daily space for poetry in an increasingly busy and chaotic world, a way of slowing things down, looking at them closely, mining each moment for all that it houses,” and to explore the ways in which poetry can help us better understand one another. Through its expansion as a syndicated radio program, the show will reach a wider audience, which speaks directly to Smith’s mission as the country’s ambassador of poetry.

Currently serving her second term as the nation’s twenty-second poet laureate, Smith has launched several initiatives during her post that focus on increasing poetry’s accessibility and readership, specifically in rural America: Her 2018 American Conversations tour, for instance, involved traveling to different cities and towns across the country, giving poetry readings and leading discussions about poetry with communities at libraries, senior centers, churches, and elsewhere. “I’m excited to continue the work I’ve done as poet laureate in celebrating poems and the conversations they foster,” Smith said of the podcast in a press release. “And thanks to technology’s ability to collapse the distance between people—to give you the feeling that there is one person out there speaking directly and only to you—geography is no longer a barrier to participation. I think this is a perfect medium for talking about the very real and natural ways that poems speak to the daily experience of being alive.”

Apart from her work as poet laureate, Smith teaches creative writing at Princeton University and is the author of four books of poetry, including most recently Wade in the Water (Graywolf, 2018) and Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her memoir, Ordinary Light (Knopf, 2015), was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction. Read a Poets & Writers Magazine profile of Smith, “Far From Ordinary,” on the release of her memoir. 


Sarah Ahmad is Poets & Writers Magazine’s Diana & Simon Raab Editorial Fellow.