I Saw Three U.S. Poet Laureates in One Academic Year!

POV: you’re me getting to see (and in the case of Tracy K. Smith, meet!) three of your favorite authors in a relatively small breadth of time!

Yep, it’s just like the title says: I got to hear three different U.S. poet laureates speak at Yale during my senior year here!

How and why did this come about, exactly? Well, it comes down to a mix of coincidence, good fortune, a confluence of a few different events, and Yale’s sheer force of attraction for writers of this caliber! So when Natasha Trethewey visited last fall as the Windham-Campbell Prize Festival’s keynote speaker, Ada Limón was invited this spring by Ezra Stiles College and the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration, and Tracy K. Smith was the speaker for the English Department’s Foundational Courses Lecture Series this year — all in all, an absolutely stacked trio of writers and scholars — I was overjoyed, and also, reminded of just how much academic and artistic pull (or dare I say, scholarly rizz?) Yale has. 

The fliers for all three events!

As I listened to Natasha Trethewey speak in September about why she writes and her approach to writing, to Ada Limón read her work and talk about how her time as a Theater major influenced her poetry (“Forsythia” goes so hard! She was in her bag when she wrote that poem!), and to Tracy K. Smith discuss her artistic process and how she crafts various sounds and moments in a poem, it wasn’t lost on me that all of them had come to me. Well, not me specifically, but at least my school.

In the areas and times of my life outside of Yale, if I’d wanted to see even one of these writers in-person, I’d be driving or flying or running or otherwise hustling to some far-from-me place, all the while thinking This might be my only chance in a long, long time to see them.

This year, though, I’ve pulled up to several free, open-to-the-public events like these that are just a short walk away from my off-campus apartment — and these events are just for one genre in one field. In any given week here, someone astronomically talented and captivatingly interesting is visiting New Haven for a dinner or speech or address or presentation — and as much as I’ll miss all the friends and communities I’ve found here after I graduate, I’ll also miss the Yale magnetism that, for lack of a more elegant way of expressing it, brings scores of super, super cool people I might otherwise never encounter to my neck of the woods on a regular basis.

And beyond those moments of listening in admiration, or asking questions that give you some kind of clarity on your own interests, or simply sitting in the experience of being starstruck, seeing and being proximate to the people you aspire to become more like can be a sort of affirmation, too — a moment, or several moments where you can think How excited I am to learn from your presence! And perhaps it’s a good thing to meet your heroes from time to time, too.