Tracy K. Smith’s third book of poems, Life on Mars, has received high praise from critics, helping to garner new readers.
“I’m extremely grateful for the positive feedback on this book. It's encouraging to know that the work has resonated with many readers, and it galvanizes me to keep going with the new writing,” Smith says.
Smith feels that since her last book, Duende, was published, her poetry is taking on not only questions about love and loss and social justice, but is also striving to ask certain large, fundamental questions — namely about God and death, and the impact of our lives upon one another and the planet.
The poetry imagines the soundtrack
for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures and oddities of
human existence. Smith conceives of 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. The poems reveal the
realities of life here and now.
Speaking recently about her year of mentoring, she acknowledges the tremendous impact her mentor Hans Magnus Enzensberger has had on Life on Mars. “His input really helped me to refine my sense of what the book was about, and what kinds of changes might make it resonate with readers who might not be American. It might sound strange, but that concern had never really occurred to me. I suppose I'd always assumed that my audience was going to be ‘local’, but Magnus has been really wonderful about encouraging me to view the work as capable of reaching people in much more distant places and positions. He has also translated a few of my poems into German, which is, of course, a tremendous honour. I really cherish the image of him guiding my poems into his own language.”
The launch of Life on Mars was followed by a reading and discussion with Hans Enzensberger (left) and Dame Antonia S. Byatt at Poets House in New York. © Rolex / Bart Michiels
The new book by the award-winning Smith, whose “lyric brilliance and political impulses never falter” (Publishers Weekly), is published by Graywolf Press.
During her mentoring year and with advice from Enzensberger, Smith has been writing on a memoir about the death of her mother and her own evolving sense of faith.
Praise for Life on Mars:
“Laughlin Award–Winner Smith's third collection blends pop culture, history, elegy, anecdote, and sociopolitical commentary to illustrate the weirdness of contemporary living. The book's title, borrowed from a David Bowie song, hints at the recurrent use of science fiction and alternate realities (which turn out to mirror this one all too well) throughout the book. For Smith, life is laced with violence and a kind of dark humor, as in ‘The Museum of Obsolescence,’ where, ‘in the south wing, there's a small room/ Where a living man sits on display.’ In another poem, laughter ‘skids across the floor/ Like beads yanked from some girl's throat.’ Poems set on space shuttles or in alternate realities manage to speak about an eerily familiar present; 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. ‘Who understands the world,’ Smith asks in these poems and sequences, ‘and when/ Will he make it make sense? Or she?’”
– Publishers Weekly
“Despite its otherworldly title, Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars is inextricably rooted in a reality that nevertheless has the capacity to astound. Yes, she takes us cavorting in the cosmos to ponder questions of magic and mortality — but, back on earth, her wrenching sequence on the death of her father is a tour de force of unleashed pain and reflection. Experiencing this extraordinary work, and wondering how best to summarize its deep shimmer, I kept returning to one of the volume’s most ambitious poems. Its title is just how I feel about Tracy K. Smith’s latest triumph: ‘My God, it’s full of stars”
– Patricia Smith, National Book Award winner
“With this remarkable third collection, Smith establishes herself among the best poets of her generation.”
– Amazon, Editorial Review