The 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
After finishing Life on Mars, I couldn’t bear to stop reading. I flipped back to the beginning, and it was like starting a whole new book. The poems grew and changed between readings, making me feel as if I grew and changed with them. Absolutely amazing poetry.
Links to a few poems from the book:
Tracy K. Smith reads from Life on Mars for the NewsHour Poetry Series
Here’s more of that interview and reading:
What did you specifically like about the poems, or in general? I still have not been able to get through all of them poems. They felt forced, and left nothing for the reader to find within, like being forced feed, and they felt disjointed. Some felt academic and trying to be impressive, instead of genuine.
Much of my non-fiction reading is science oriented, particularly physics and biology, while my fiction shelves are dominated by science fiction and fantasy. So I was predisposed to liking these poems. And from the first line of the first poem, the unresolved/unanswerable questions resonated for me: “Is God being or pure force?” (The Weather in Space)
I like the line breaks: “…When the storm / Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing / After all…” (The Weather in Space), “The books have lived here all along, belonging / For weeks at a time…” (My God, It’s Full of Stars), and “The television saying over and over Seek // And ye shall find…” (It’s Not).
I also like the word choice and use of sound: “Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics / Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine” (My God, It’s Full of Stars).
Finally, I like the fresh imagery: “When our laughter skids across the floor / Like beads yanked from some girl’s throat,” (The Largeness We Can’t See).
For me, the book was warm and engaging, but I can’t explain exactly why. The above examples are merely examples, and I could find equally compelling ones scattered throughout books of poetry that have left me disappointed and cold. In the end, I don’t know why Life on Mars captured and held my attention, and I don’t know if my enthusiasm for the book will last. All I can say is that, in this moment, I’m a happy reader.
Rae – thank you kindly for the detailed and personal response. It is good to have another perspective, and in the end, this what poetry should do, regardless of someone’s opinion.
I think poetry would be boring without discussion, and I’m honored that you commented on my post. The next time I read these poems, I’ll see them through a lens that includes your perspective, which will make my reading more nuanced and interesting. Perhaps that’s all we need, for a definition of “good poetry”. Good poetry makes people want to talk about it.
That is a good point, that we see enough in the piece to want to discuss and learn another’s perspective.