U.S. Poet Laureate to read historic new poem at NCC Graduation

Norwalk Community College is honored to announce that Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd  Poet Laureate of the United States, will recite her latest poem, Harbor, as part of NCC’s 57th Commencement tomorrow (May 21).  Smith will receive an honorary degree at the graduation.

She will recite Harbor during NCC President David L. Levinson’s Commencement Address.

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

NCC graduates and guests will be among the first people to hear it.

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.

NCC Commencement will begin at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 21 at Harbor Yard Arena in Bridgeport.  See full text of Harbor below.


By Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate

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.