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Life on Marsby Tracy K. Smith
2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Synopses & Reviews
New poetry by the award-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, whose “lyric brilliance and political impulses never falter” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
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?
from No Fly Zone
With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures, and oddities of human existence. In these brilliant 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 the kitschy concepts like “love” and “illness” now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence. These poems reveal the realities of life lived here, on the ground, where a daughter is imprisoned in the basement by her own father, where celebrities and pop stars walk among us, and where the poet herself loses her father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. With this remarkable third collection, Smith establishes herself among the best poets of her generation.
"Laughlin Award — winner Smith's third collection blends pop culture, history, elegy, anecdote, and sociopolitical commentary to illustrate the weirdness of contemporary living. The book's title, borrowed from a David Bowie song, hints at the recurrent use of science fiction and alternate realities (which turn out to mirror this one all too well) throughout the book. For Smith, life is laced with violence and a kind of dark humor, as in 'The Museum of Obsolescence,' where, 'in the south wing, there's a small room/ Where a living man sits on display.' In another poem, laughter 'skids across the floor/ Like beads yanked from some girl's throat.' Poems set on space shuttles or in alternate realities manage to speak about an eerily familiar present; the title poem, which includes everything from 'dark matter' and 'a father.../ who kept his daughter/ Locked in a cell for decades' to Abu Ghraib is proof that life is far stranger and more haunting than fiction. 'Who understands the world,' Smith asks in these poems and sequences, 'and when/ Will he make it make sense? Or she?' (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"In Life on Mars, Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. It's not easy to be so convincing in both the grand gesture and the reverent contemplation of a humble plate of eggs....As all the best poetry does, Life on Mars first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled." The New York Times Book Review
"[Life on Mars] is by turns intimate, even confessional, regarding private life in light of its potential extermination, and resoundingly political, warning of a future that 'isn't what it used to be,' the refuse of a party piled with 'postcards / And panties, bottles with lipstick on the rim.'" The New Yorker
"The book's strange and beautiful first section pulses with America's adolescent crush on the impossible, on what waits beyond the edge of the universe....But what's most satisfying about [Life on Mars] is that after the grand space opera of Part 1, with its giddy name checks of 2001 and David Bowie, Ms. Smith shows us that she can play the minor keys, too. Her Martian metaphor firmly in place, she reveals unknowable terrains: birth and death and love." The New York Times
"Hypnotic and brimming with irony, the poems in Smith's latest volume aren't so much about outer space as the interior life and the search for the divine....The spiritual motif running through these poems adds a stunning dimension that will please many readers." Library Journal
"[Tracy K. Smith is] one of the finest poets writing right now." The Miami Herald
"In Life on Mars, a vibrant collection of verse, Smith pays homage to David Bowie ('the Pope of Pop'), Stanley Kubric, the Hubble Telescope, JFK airport and more. It's a gripping, intergalactic ride that marvels at the miracles and malfunctions of our ever changing world. 'Like a wide wake, rippling/Infinitely into the distance, everything/That ever was still is, somewhere.'" More Magazine
"[The poems] are smart, funny, and expertly crafted." San Francisco Chronicle, Best Poetry of 2011
"A strong, surprising, and often beautiful book....Consistently surprising and demanding, Life on Mars gives materiality to Victor Martinez's statement that 'poetry is the essence of thinking.'" The Rumpus
About the Author
Tracy K. Smith is the author of two previous poetry collections: Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award, and The Bodys Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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