Poetry Friday: Declaration by Tracy K. Smith

Poetry Friday is hosted by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading


It was James Baldwin’s birthday yesterday, he would have turned 91.  Reading the tributes in his honor, and watching some of his interviews, I was saddened by the thought that we have not come nearly as far as a truly equal and just nation as Baldwin would have hoped we would.

“Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most!—and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” —from No Name in the Street(1972)

Under Trump, ignorance is truly allied with power, and we have only to read or listen to the news to know this on a daily, minute by minute, basis.   Thoughts of Baldwin reminded me of this poem, by the current Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, from her new collection: Wade in the Water.  The text for the erasure poem is, of course, the Declaration of Independence:

by Tracy K. Smith

He has

sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people

He has plundered our—

ravaged our—

destroyed the lives of our—

taking away our­—

(you can read the rest of the poem here.)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Baldwin, thank you for still awakening our conscience, may we find the strength to act upon it.

4 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Declaration by Tracy K. Smith

  1. Between Baldwin’s words and Smith’s poem, you’ve got a real call to action for social justice going on here! Did you see Diane Mayr’s Statue of Liberty poems?


  2. Oh, these times are heartbreaking, and Baldwin’s “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” is no surprise, still written years ago, sad to read and know that things are not good. Thanks for the poem, too, Tara.


  3. I truly believe there are more socially aware and moral people than there are those who follow the always-entertaining mango menace. As long we stand united, we may have a chance to pull the country out from under. Thanks for the poem today!


  4. Baldwin’s lines of “ignorance allied with power” seem prophetic these days. I do hope that some good can come out of the disaster of our current administration–people becoming more aware, more willing to speak out and speak up, more willing to stand up for justice, especially for those who are the least among us.


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