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Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

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.  Rather than compare the two in pros and cons, the narrator takes a third path:

"Not letting up, the frenzy of being.  I want it to be
wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And scaled tight, so nothing escapes.  Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father" (page 10)

There is a sense of wide-eyed, childlike wonder about the world and the unknown space and world of God. Rather than shrink from either, the narrator embraces their possibilities and revels in the possibilities.  Part two speaks for itself and pays homage to a father lost and time with him too short.  The collection then gives way to more timely matters in the news from a young woman kept as a sex slave to her father in the basement of a home he shared with his wife to the Abu Ghraib prisoners who were savagely mistreated by soldiers under too much pressure.  In the final section of the collection, Smith opens up her verse at full throttle to explore the infinite energy and being of all in the universe and the pulse of that energy as it continues to churn.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith is well worth the prize it has won.  Her verse is well paced and masterful in how it draws parallels and leaves larger issues open ended for readers to think more about on their own.  She’s taken larger than life issues and honed in on them with a sharp eye, boiling them down to what really matters through personal accounts and a satiric remixing of facts from the news and more.  Definitely a collection for book clubs and to return to again and again when readers are feeling a bit enamored of the great unknowns.

About the Poet:

Tracy K. Smith was raised in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She studied at Harvard, where she joined the Dark Room Collective, a reading series for writers of color. She went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University.

This is the 24th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

162nd Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 162nd Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars collection:

EVERYTHING THAT EVER WAS (Page 59-60)

Like a wide wake, rippling
Infinitely into the distance, everything
 
That ever was still is, somewhere,
Floating near the surface, nursing
Its hunger for you and me

And the now we’ve named
And made a place of.
 
Like groundswell sometimes
It surges up, claiming a little piece
Of where we stand.

Like the wind the rains ride in on,
It sweeps across the leaves,

Pushing in past the windows
We didn’t slam quickly enough.
Dark water it will take days to drain.

It surprised us last night in my sleep.
Brought food, a gift. Stood squarely

There between us, while your eyes
Danced toward mine, and my hands
Sat working a thread in my lap.

Up close, it was so thin. And when finally
You reached for me, it backed away,

Bereft, but not vanquished. Today,
Whatever it was seems slight, a trail
Of cloud rising up like smoke.

And the trees that watch as I write
Sway in the breeze, as if all that stirs

Under the soil is a little tickle of knowledge
The great blind roots will tease through
And push eventually past.

What do you think?

Mailbox Monday #181

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Burton Book Review.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller, which I won from Under My Apple Tree.

Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.

Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

2. 15 Seconds by Andrew Gross from the publisher.

15 seconds can tear your life apart . . .

Henry Steadman didn’t know what was about to hit him when he pulled up to a red light. A successful Florida plastic surgeon, he is in town to deliver a keynote address at a conference when suddenly his life becomes an unrelenting chase to stay alive.

Stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation, the situation escalates and he is pulled from his vehicle, handcuffed and told he is under arrest. Several other police cars arrive and the questioning turns scary, but just as Henry is released and about to move on, a blue sedan pulls up and the officer is suddenly killed. As the car speeds away, there is only one suspect left behind–Henry. In that moment, his idyllic life becomes a free fall into hell as he becomes the target of a police manhunt, as well as being pursued by a cunning, unnamed perpetrator bent on some kind of vengeance.

When Henry turns to a close friend for help, and he, too, ends up dead, Henry realizes he’s being elaborately framed. But in a chilling twist, the stakes grow even darker, and he is unable to go to the police to clear his name, without bringing on dire and deadly consequences.

With breakneck pacing and nonstop action, 15 Seconds shows what can happen when even the best life is turned upside down in an instant. It is also the story of an innocent man, framed for murder, who has to save the person he loves the most, all while being drawn closer and closer to an inevitable face-to-face standoff with a man determined to destroy his life.

3. After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop, which I won from Peeking Between the Pages.

The sins of the mother… In the mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania, site of the infamous 1948 “killing smog,” headstrong nurse Rose Pavlesic tends to her family and neighbors. Controlling and demanding, she’s created a life that reflects everything she missed growing up as an orphan. She’s even managed to keep her painful secrets hidden from her loving husband, dutiful children, and large extended family. When a stagnant weather pattern traps poisonous mill gasses in the valley, neighbors grow sicker and Rose’s nursing obligations thrust her into conflict she never could have fathomed. Consequences from her past collide with her present life, making her once clear decisions as gray as the suffocating smog. As pressure mounts, Rose finds she’s not the only one harboring lies. When the deadly fog finally clears, the loss of trust and faith leaves the Pavlesic family—and the whole town—splintered and shocked. With her new perspective, can Rose finally forgive herself and let her family’s healing begin?

4. Kino by Jurgen Fauth, which I bought at Novel Places.

When the long lost, first-ever silent film from visionary director Kino arrives mysteriously on his granddaughter Mina’s doorstep, the mission to discover the man she barely knew begins. As Kino’s journals plunge the reader into the depraved glamour and infectious panic of 1920s and ’30s Germany, Mina turns her life upside down to redeem her grandfather’s legend.

With a cast of characters that includes Joseph Goebbels, Fritz Lang and Leni Riefenstahl, Fauth concocts a genre-busting blend of German history, film, and art into a fast, sinister tale of redemption. The tightly woven narrative is filled with thuggish darkness and back alley shadows running neck-and-neck with cinematic light and intrigue.

5. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, which I bought at Novel Places.

Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can’t solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard’s heroines. It’s a lot to live up to.

The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents’ frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them…

6. Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith, which I bought from Novel Places.

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.

7. Time Life Books — Recipes: The Cooking of Spain and Portugal, which I received as a surprise from my book club buddy, Erin.

8. Time Life Books — The Cooking of Scandinavia, which Erin also gave me.

What did you receive?