Book Review of Wade in the Water

Wade in the Water

As the former poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith has a large platform to share her talent. In a position like hers, she has the ability to bring challenging and important topics to the table, one of which being slavery or the mistreatment of African Americans. Her collaboration of erasure poems have an ample amount of elements that affectively make her audience think beyond the surface level and delve into the heavy topic of slavery from multiple perspectives. 

In Tracy Smith’s Unrest in Baton Rouge the line, “Love: naked almost in the everlasting street, Skirt lifted by a different kind of breeze” stuck out to me (Smith 46). Smith’s words are powerful upon the first read. They make the reader think about the meaning behind them. Because she has so much power and influence, she took an image that had gone viral and broke it down into words. When viewing the image and hearing the poem spoken, you can see every detail Smith analyzed to successfully portray the meaning behind the picture. The skirt is lifting from the force in which the police run at the woman. The setting takes place in the center of the street where the woman is vulnerable. Smith’s work accurately incorporates that vulnerability using recognizable jargon in context of the issue, police brutality against African Americans. This piece contributed to Smith’s overall theme by showing how present the issue still is today. 

When reading the poem, The Angels, Smith introduces us to two “angels” who don’t necessarily fit the norm you would affiliate with most angels. They are displayed as awful bikers who smelt like rum and gasoline. The poem finishes with “My mother sat whispering with it At the end of her life While all the rooms of our house Filled up with night” (Smith 7). I found it interesting to ponder on this idea of the correlation between the mother’s life coming to an end and the way the angels are described. The interpretation of these “angels” may very well be an allusion to the way African Americans felt in their times of despair. 

The poem which holds the name of the book itself, Wade in the Water and concludes part 1 of the reading holds a powerful line, “I love you in the rusted iron Chains someone was made To drag until love let them be Unclasped and left empty In the center of the ring” ( Smith 15). These words have so much depth. To think about the restriction slaves had and the restrictions chains hold and then with the love it takes for a slave owner to let their slaves be free as well as a guard releasing a prisoner… both take love to soften their hearts in order to take action. 

“Mr abarham lincon I wont to knw sir if you please whether I can have my son relest from the arme      he is all the subport” (Smith 24). This quote comes from I Will Tell You the Truth About This, I Will Tell You All About It. I think Smith very strategically includes this letter in order to make the audience feel empathy towards the mother. At the time, the letter this mother originally wrote likely never made it to the president. If it had, the interpretation of it may have been a negative one. The president might have taken offense and belittled the mother for her incompetence. Because Smith brought this letter into the circuit and gave it life, we, as an audience, have empathy for the mother and all slaves because they weren’t given the privilege of education. The misspelled words contribute to the race stigma that African American’s had to suffer through while the white man continued to improve their own place in society by holding power over slaves. 

Just looking at a few of her poems shows the many different approaches to addressing the issue of slavery and mistreatment of African Americans both currently and in the past. Smith uses many different documents and resources in her attempt to inform the reader on a difficult subject to hear about. I think she uses her position in society to properly express the amplitude of the topic at hand.