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Life on Mars: Poems Paperback – May 10, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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.” ―Joel Brouwer, 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.' ” ―Dan Chiasson, 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.” ―Dana Jennings, The New York Times

“[Life on Mars] blends pop culture, history, elegy, anecdote, and sociopolitical commentary to illustrate the weirdness of contemporary living. . . . 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.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“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.” ―Gabrielle Calvocoressi, 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.' ” ―Sean Singer, 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 Body's Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She teaches at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975844
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975845
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tracy K. Smith is the author of three acclaimed books of poetry: The Body's Question, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize; Duende, winner of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award; and, most recently, Life on Mars, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Notable Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, and a New Yorker, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Other honors include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, a Whiting Writers' Award, and an Academy of American Poets Fellowship. A professor of creative writing at Princeton University, she lives in Princeton with her family.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Life on Mars" is a collection of 33 poems touching on most aspects of 21st Century American hope and belief. Make no mistake about it: life on Mars is life on Earth, and readers will recognize the ironies (sometimes quite bitter) between our culture's surface appearances we so like to show others and the realities of deep scars and wounds we try to hide even from ourselves. The poem that gives the collection its title is a beautifully crafted work that discusses the "dark matter" existing between us that we don't (won't?) recognize and that might be responsible for wreaking havoc in our personal lives. It's a chilling indictment of us all that uses actual recent events in our country to make us hope and pray that it's dark matter causing our incest, intolerance, ignorance and destruction. An earlier generation would've said "The devil made me do it," but ours tries to lay the blame on natural phenomena. The poem packs a punch - deftly though, and artistically. I swear it must have taken Smith many revisions and months to get it right, choosing just the right image, the right words, the right inflections and line meter to achieve such success.

The poem "Life on Mars" is followed by a shorter gem: "Solstice." Here, Smith addresses the killing of Canada geese at JFK airport, the killing of people, and the public's dwindling interest in the news. What's remarkable is Smith chose the format of a villanelle to tell the tale - a poetic form that uses rhyme, repetition and meter to create a mystical atmosphere. In this case, the villanelle greatly heightens a feeling of helplessness and loss, and we pray that the solstice of our culture has been reached and that light will soon begin to return.
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I have a tendency of buying things on my wishlist when I'm intoxicated, and this just so happened to be one of those. I'm extremely pleased with this purchase. Tracy K. Smith's poems are grand, sometimes grand enough to give me chills. This is definitely a poetic endeavor that has landed among the stars.
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Life on Mars does all that we hope from great poetry: Here is a book that is not only artistically flawless, it explores grand themes of life and death, it delves intimately into the body and sensory experience, while ascending to great heights of the most abstract mysteries, it addresses with soberness and compassion the plight of our times--torture, gun violence, domestic abuse, environmental devastation--vignettes that show the best as well as worst of humanity. It is a book to be honored for its relevance and importance as well as for its beauty and artistic merit.

A heavy presence of the divine pervades Life on Mars. Often addressed as "it", it flows through the poems like an undercurrent uniting the diversity of subjects. "It" is the "everything / that ever was still is, somewhere, / floating near the surface", "It" is the "something they have no name for that insists upon being born"; "It" is the "kind of ecstasy" the dead experience without a body; "It" is the something that "soars, then grieves" to be born; "It" is the feeling of the body longing to touch the body of a lover. Like a great mystic, Smith points us to the origin of things, the mysterious force that moves the universe, the soul of the body and the largeness that is everything we can't see.

For me, the most remarkable poem in the collection is "They May Love All That He Has Chosen and Hate All That He Has Rejected." The poem is based on homicides reported in the New York Times in the Spring of 2009. The victims write postcards to their assailants from America's most celebrated landmarks. The dead are given a voice as they speak about life, the strangeness of death and being killed.
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This was one of the books assigned to me for a poetry class in college. It is one of maybe two assigned books that I kept after graduating. I have always loved poetry, but this collection really stood out to me. Like Tracy K. Smith and her father, my family also bonds over science and science fiction, so I found myself relating very well to her poems about her father. I think this collection does require some knowledge about science because it has so many allusions to it. Some people in the class, for instance, had trouble understanding the poem "The Challenger" because they weren't familiar with that event in scientific history. This might be why some of the lower reviews say things like "I just didn't get it". If you like science and poetry, though, this is fantastic.
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The first third of this book is quite good, showing Ms. Smith as a poet with an original voice and vision. I thought the latter poems in the collection not so inventive. This could just be me, so if your a Tracy K. Smith champion, please ignore my remarks. I read a lot of contemporary poetry and much of the last half of this book seemed weaker when compared to the first grouping of poems. Still, she's a poet worth watching.
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