Top positive review
71 people found this helpful
Sometimes the most profound space travel is in our interior space.
on May 19, 2011
"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.
The poem that provides the biggest kick in the book, however, is the monumental elegy, "The Speed of Belief." It contains some great lines and images, and walks us through a daughter's coping with the loss of her father. I say "coping" and not "grieving," because the daughter tries to imagine her father's death as part of a continuum, not an ending, and the poem builds through seven magnificently crafted sections to a powerful, wonderful conclusion that will leave the reader satisfied and saying, "Yes! Yes!" And one striking image from the poem will stay with me for a very long time, her father standing in the heavens, and "Night kneels at your feet like a gypsy glistening with jewels." This poem alone is worth the price of the book!
Great lines abound in this collection. For example, take this image from "The Good Life": a poor person " . . . walking to work on payday / like a woman journeying for water / from a village without a well."
These are poems that unflinchingly capture the human condition today, but they do so with great beauty . . . and a touch of solace.