U.S. Poet Laureate Honored at Graduation

Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd  Poet Laureate of the United States, recited her latest poem, Harbor, at NCC’s 57th Commencement on May 21. President David L. Levinson, Ph.D. presented Smith with an honorary Associate degree at the graduation.

This poem was commissioned for the grand opening of the Statute of Liberty Museum on May 15. It debuted at a grand opening gala attended by Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, Jeff Bezos, and other celebrities.

Less than a week later, NCC graduating students and their guests were among the first people to hear it publicly.

The Statue of Liberty Museum is located on Ellis Island in the New York Harbor, behind the colossal “Lady Liberty” statue, a copper sculpture dedicated in 1886 as a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States.

Harbor is a ghazal-form poem (a series of autonomous couplets) partly modeled on poet Emma Lazarus’  The New Colossus, reports the Associated Press. Written to commemorate the dedication of Lady Liberty, The New Colossus is a poem best known for the lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

In Harbor, Smith invites an arriving “Stranger” to “Be my guest. Drink tea, taste fruit and bread” and warns that “this land you’ve sought is peopled with enemies and kin.”

Smith says she doesn’t see her role as Poet Laureate to be a “political” one. But some literary critics believe that Harbor casts light on the current immigration crisis and gives welcome to those who have longed to enter this country. See full text of Harbor below.

Harbor

By Tracy K. Smith

Stranger, I find myself lost. Let us watch this new age gather
Overhead. Let’s see what rains onto unaccustomed skin.

Once, we were pelt, fur, hide. Only the seasons mattered. Now,
We shiver, crying out. Not from winter, but the fear in skin.

I see the tall masts of history in horizon fog. They dip
And rise. The tides they ride swell under human skin.

Be my guest. Drink tea, taste fruit and bread. The meat rests,
Cooling on the slab, but see how wine has flushed our skin?

This land you’ve sought is peopled with enemies and kin.
You’ll learn to read the whole long story written on skin.

We passengers wait. Our restless waiting forms an island.
One woman stands, sings. Her music enters through my skin.

Stranger, you’re the words to a hymn I’ve only ever hummed.
Come. Let’s erase the distance between skin and skin.