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Visiting Poet Finds Eager Crowds
Shares ‘Where the Poems Come From’

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Poet 8mar18U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith appeared Tuesday evening at Southeastern Community College to a packed auditorium. Smith is the author of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Life on Mars. She is a professor at Princeton University.

The poet’s visit to Columbus County was arranged by the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society as a special way of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the A.R. Ammons Poetry Contest. Numerous corporate and private sponsors contributed to the expenses of bringing Smith.

Wednesday (yesterday) morning she read and discussed several of her poems to more than 600 seventh graders from all the county’s schools. Then at noon she provided a more in-depth master class for about two dozen chosen high-school students. After a final reception yesterday evening, Smith returned to her home in New Jersey, where she said her 8-year-old daughter and twin 4-year-old sons were playing in the snow.

RBHPS organizers were concerned that Tuesday’s chilly rain locally would decrease attendance at the SCC talk and warned Smith not to be discouraged if that was the case.

Instead, the college auditorium held a capacity crowd. "I’ve never seen that place so full,” said Columbus County Schools arts education coordinator Kelly Jones.

Poet2 8mar18RBHPS literary co-chairs Janice Simms and Pat Ray were "bowled over” by the response.

After a prelude by pianist and teacher Sharyn Edwards, comments by college president Anthony Clarke and a recitation of one of Smith’s poems by South Columbus High School senior Miranda Sibbett, Ray welcomed the poet laureate to the podium to read her own work.

Pieces ranged in length from one sentence to several pages. Subject matter explored such diverse questions as, "What might God do on a day off ?” to "What is history?” to "What is the soul allowed to keep?” Smith introduced each poem with a few comments about the circumstances that had caused her to write it.

Her final set of readings came from a soon-to-be-published book. She explained that they were based on near-death experiences, including an angel sighting by her own mother. "This is me trying to tell you I’m not crazy (for writing poems about this subject),” Smith told her listeners; the afterlife stories gave her a way to express the message that "love is the animating force of life.” She called that lesson "simple yet difficult” to remember and put into practice in daily life, especially when one is stuck in traffic or one’s child is throwing a temper fit.

The audience had risen to applaud Smith when she first walked on stage and did so again to thank her at the end of the reading.

Afterward, members of the audience described the performance as "wonderful,” "moving,” and "an amazing gift to the community.”

"This was a lifetime event,” said Billie Jayroe. "She’s amazing and gifted. This was so different from anything else I’ve been to. When she reads, you can see the images.”

"I’d like to know more about how she became a poet,” said Jolene Fowler Lewis. A large number of audience members felt the same way and stood in line to buy copies of Smith’s books, including her thought-provoking and enjoyable memoir, Ordinary Light.

Smith described poetry as not only "a powerful art form” but "more and more a way to stay human when we are surrounded by so many things that distract us.” A later article will bring together the impressions of the seventh-grade students and others who met with Smith yesterday.

By Diana Matthews (dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com)

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published March 8, 2018 in The News Reporter www.NRColumbus.com

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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