"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pining for 'Life on Mars' and Earth

Life on MarsLife on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I find most enlivening about Life on Mars is how naturally and completely Tracy K. Smith erases the line between sci-fi, sci-reality, and contemporary poetry. This isn’t one genre impersonating another. Nor is it a medley that vacillates awkwardly between different idioms. This is a singular work with no confines other than the governing forces of the universe: space, time and gravity.

Ms. Smith doesn’t other the universe as so many of us do—compartmentalizing it into a distant and foreign place that some foolishly regard as irrelevant. All that existence is mingles on the page to produce a longing for emotional communion and intellectual understanding. For me, it is heartwarming to see another creative thinker who interacts with the cosmos on such a spiritually holistic, yet grounded humanistic plane.

I find Life on Mars very accessible, but not thin or superficial. Smith’s voice is confident and unapologetic, but also exudes tenderness. The poems give voice to a range of universal feelings: desire for intimacy; desire to transcend; and desire to renew. Life on Mars explores what it means to be human in the post-Einstein, post-Apollo, and soon to be post-Hubble universe.

Lastly, I had the delightful chance to share a couple of these poems with a niece and nephew over Thanksgiving weekend. They are teenagers. We were looking for things to do other than watch TV, so I exercised my avuncular gravitas and made them read poetry. I had them take turns reading a poem aloud. And I told them not to get hung up if it didn’t make sense right away.

Afterwards, we discussed what the poems got them thinking about. I won’t go into specifics but it was wonderful to see their intellects churning, coming up with ideas while mulling over initially cryptic phrases. We arrived at a place where we could talk candidly about what it means to be a human these days. My thanks to the author. Life on Mars is poetry that provokes rich discussion across generations.

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