Clint Smith stopped by the Late Show With Stephen Colbert to discuss poetry with the talk show host.

Smith, who won a National Book Critics Circle Award for his bestselling 2021 nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed, appeared on the show two days after the publication of his latest poetry collection, Above Ground.

“Going for the big money with poetry is what you’re doing,” Colbert joked to Smith. “You’re selling out.”

Colbert then asked Smith what writers can do with poetry that they can’t with prose.

“For me, I think poetry is the act of paying attention,” Smith replied. “It pushes me to pay attention to a moment, a feeling, an idea, an image.”

Colbert quoted a line from Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird, and asked Smith if he thought attention was related to love.

“I do think that there’s a lot of overlap between those two,” Smith said. “What is love other than giving your attention, your time, a part of you to another person? And I think that poems force you to pay attention, and remind me in some way how much of the world that there is to love, despite the despair and sense of catastrophe that we often feel so much of.”

Asked about the themes of his new book, Smith said, “Part of what I’m thinking about in the collection is simultaneity of the human experience, how we move through the world holding joy and love and wonder and awe alongside a sense of despair, a sense of fear, amid the backdrop of ecological and social catastrophe. So I’m thinking about that in the context of the human experience and the context of parenthood.”

Michael Schaub, a journalist and regular contributor to NPR, lives near Austin, Texas.