Tracy K. Smith explores ‘Life on Mars’

Studio 360

Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection “Life on Mars” contains many references to the man she salutes as the “Pope of Pop,” David Bowie. 
Smith says she became “kind of obsessed” with Bowie’s extraterrestrial alter ego Ziggy Stardust in her 30s. He seemed to embody “the imagination as something that is capable of creating a whole new world and a whole new sense of self.” And the view back down to earth was equally captivating.

“I love the sense of looking at the sad, paltry and yet very familiar spectacle that we must make from moment to moment in our lives, and in our frenzy, as something that’s as out there as alien life," she said.
Smith’s interest in space also stems from her father, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. When he died in 2008, Smith tells Kurt Andersen, she looked at the Hubble’s images of deep space with new curiosity.

“I always felt there was this kernel of connectedness that he and I shared,” she says, “even though we veered in very separate directions.” Other poems in the collection consider his death, as well as black holes, metaphysics and the afterlife.

(Originally aired April 27, 2012)

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?