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Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

Life on Mars: Poems (edition 2011)

by Tracy K. Smith

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192861,408 (4.14)62
Title:Life on Mars: Poems
Authors:Tracy K. Smith
Info:Graywolf Press (2011), Paperback, 88 pages
Collections:Your library

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Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith



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There is a sci-fi tilt to [[Tracy K. Smith]]’s book of poetry, [Life on Mars]; her father was an optical engineer who worked on the Hubble telescope. He'd "read Larry Niven at home and drink scotch on the rocks,/ His eyes exhausted and pink." A good part of the book reflects her reactions to his death in 2008. She also takes a celestial-eye view of our foibles ("I spent two years not looking/Into the mirror at his office") horrors (the "father in the news who kept his daughter/ Locked in a cell for decades") and irrationalities ("I didn't want to believe/ What we believe in those rooms").

I hoped to find the remarkable title poem, [Life On Mars], somewhere online, but no luck. It starts like this:

Tina says what if dark matter is like the space between people
When what holds them together isn't exactly love, and I think
That sounds right - how strong the pull can be, as if something
That knows better won't let you drift apart so easily, and how
Small and heavy you feel, stuck there spinning in place.

Life can treat us roughly and horribly.

I knew which direction to go
From the stench of what still burned.
It was funny to see my house
Like that - as if the roof
Had been lifted up and carried off
By someone playing at dolls.


Tina says we do it to one another, every day,
Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,
What happens feels like dumb luck. When it's not,
We're riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.

Is it all due to dark matter? Or something else? It's well worth your tracking down that title poem to find out what she says.

This excellent one, beautifully titled, "My God, It's Full of Stars", can be found online. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/243880 Here's part of it:

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be

One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.

Wide open, so everything floods in at once.

And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,

Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.

The title of the book comes from the David Bowie song, and his Ziggy Stardust persona pops up in the book. So does the movie [2001: A Space Odyssey] and other cultural artifacts. This is a poetry book that's easy to enjoy, while giving the reader lots to ponder. I love this question she raises at the end of "No-Fly Zone"

You lie there kicking like a baby, waiting for God himself
To lift you past the rungs of your crib. What
Would your life say if it could talk?
( )
1 vote jnwelch | Apr 11, 2016 |
Most current poetry leaves me cold, but I found these delightful, partly because of the SF theme, partly because she writes with good humor and grace. Got to find more by her. ( )
  unclebob53703 | Feb 21, 2016 |
( )
  redrabbit | Nov 25, 2014 |
In Waco, April means the Beall Poetry festival at Baylor University. In 1994, Mrs. Virginia B. Ball established the John A. and DeLouise McClelland Beall Endowed Fund to honor her parents and to encourage the writing and appreciation of poetry. Mrs. Ball was an English major who graduated from Baylor in 1940. Since 1995, the festival has celebrated some of the finest contemporary poets with readings, a panel discussion, and a lecture on contemporary poetry. Some of the invited participants include Donald Hall, Gary Snyder, Derek Walcott, Maxine Kumin, Galway Kinnell, Billy Collins, W.S. Merwin, Robert Bly, Philip Levine, Adrienne Rich, Louise Glück, Charles Wright, and Anthony Hecht.

The 2013 invitees included Bobby C. Rogers, James Fenton, Les Murray, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Tracy K. Smith. Henry Hart delivered the Virginia Beall Ball Lecture.

Tracy won the Pulitzer Prize for her third collection of poetry, Life on Mars. She read several poems at her reading, so I had a tough time selecting my favorite. Even after a couple of reads, the power of description and the emotion in these poems shine through to this reader. “The Good Life” well-represents her talents:

“When some people talk about money / They speak as if it were a mysterious lover / Who went out to buy milk and never / Came back, and it makes me nostalgic / For the years I lived on coffee and bread, / Hungry all the time, walking to work on Payday / Like a woman journeying for water / From a village without a well, then living / One or two nights like everyone else / On roast chicken and red wine.” (64)

It must be obvious I like short poems, and here is another, titled “The Soul”:

“The voice is clean. Has heft. Like Stones / Dropped in still water, or tossed / One after the other at a low wall. / Chipping away at what pushes back. Not always making a dent, but keeping at it. / And the silence around it is a door / Punched through with light. A garment / That attests to breasts, the privacy / Between thighs. This body is what we lean toward, / Tensing as it darts, dancing away. / But it’s the voice that enters us. Even / Saying nothing. Even saying nothing / Over and over absently to itself.” (23)

A good poet, in my opinion, is one who consistently produces thought-provoking poems, with imagery that rakes my imagination over cooling coals of emotion, then leaves me with a smile, or maybe a frown, or even laughter at the clever connections to my life, loves, and experiences. Tracy K. Smith is one of those poets. 5 stars.

--Jim, 4/17/13 ( )
  rmckeown | Apr 27, 2013 |
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith, published by Graywolf Press on 30 percent post-consumer wastepaper, is a collection sliced up into four parts, and it won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. In the first section there are two parallels that Smith draws — the one between poet and astronomer searching for meaning in vastness and the parallels between the physical and spiritual world. Like in “Cathedral Kitsch,” the narrator speaks of the gleam of gold in the church and wonders if God is there shining back on himself, but by the end of the poem, the narrator remarks on man’s stamp on the church and on faith. “I feel/Man here. The same wish/That named the planets.//Man with his shoes and tools,/His insistence to prove we exist/Just like God, in the large/And the small, the great//”

Some of the best lines come in “My God, It’s Full of Stars” where the narrator talks about God and the great unknown alongside the physical world in which she lives.

Read the full review: http://savvyverseandwit.com/2012/12/life-on-mars-by-tracy-k-smith.html ( )
  sagustocox | Dec 4, 2012 |
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In this brilliant collection of new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant and revisits kitschy concepts like 'love' and 'illness', now relegated to the museum of obsolescence. With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe, accompanying the discoveries, failures and oddities of human existence and establishing Smith as one of the best poets of her generation.… (more)

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