How can the poems in Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith be analyzed?

The poems in Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith can be analyzed by examining the source texts of the erasure poems and the historical and contemporary contexts upon which the poet draws.

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In Wade in the Water,Tracy K. Smith explores how America came to be the country that it is. One of her most characteristic techniques is to link the past to the present, either within a single poem or over the course of several poems.

Smith particularly favors erasure poetry,...

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In Wade in the Water, Tracy K. Smith explores how America came to be the country that it is. One of her most characteristic techniques is to link the past to the present, either within a single poem or over the course of several poems.

Smith particularly favors erasure poetry, in which all the words of a poem come from a source text, while the remainder of that text is erased. This is a particularly potent way of linking past and present and also lends itself to a specific style of analysis in which the poem is compared to the source text. One of the poems in Wade in the Water, called "Declaration," is based on the Declaration of Independence. An analysis of this poem might well open with the way in which the well-known words of the Declaration are used to highlight new forms of oppression in America and to examine parallels between eighteenth- and twenty-first–century structures of power.

Sometimes, Smith extends her historical and contemporary references over more than one poem, making them suitable for analysis in pair or groups. "The Greatest Personal Privation" refers to Phoebe and Patience, slaves who were members of the Geechee Gullah communities in Georgia. The title poem of the collection, "Wade in the Water," which has a woman greeting the speaker with the words "I love you" and setting out a vision of universal love, is about and dedicated to today's Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters. In each poem, the reference is made more profound by the combination of historical and contemporary context.

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