When a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet speaks, GCU listens

A night to remember at Georgian Court

Guest post by Charlee Bassillo  ///  Photos by Amanda MacPhee

On April 23, 2013, thanks to diligent preparations made by students and faculty of the Georgian Court University Department of English, Massachusetts native Tracy K. Smith visited for a poetry reading in the Little Theater, an evening event that will surely be held near and dear to the hearts of English majors across campus. GCU’s Dr. Russell McDonald ushered in the visiting poet with a warm welcome and introduction, echoing the pleasure shared by the entire audience to have had the distinct opportunity to meet, greet, and speak with such a highly-esteemed literary voice as Tracy K. Smith, whose 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning Life on Mars is preceded by the James Laughlin Award-winning Duende and The Body’s Question, a Cave Canem Poetry Prize-winner.

Poet Tracy K. Smith Listening
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The night’s readings primarily focused on material from her 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winner, Life on Mars, but Smith also surprised guests with a brand new selection, dazzling attendants with her poetic artistry, invigoratingly fresh insight, and meditative prose. ​Explaining that her poetry has blossomed out of life’s perplexing quandaries, both big and small, Ms. Smith’s writing encompasses even day-to-day ponderings, which are, of course, juxtaposed neatly and meaningfully against “big ticket” questions, revealing uncanny connections between unlikely pairings – such as the cosmos versus ordinary, everyday life. Many poems were designated by Smith as being largely elegiac to her father, a retired Space Hubble engineer, though Tracy also discussed the impact of a unique blend of political, personal, and spiritual influences on her writing of Life on Mars, citing a sundry of inspirational sources – from the gassing of geese at JFK airport and seeing her father’s reflection in the impressive stance of a tiger on a magazine page to the contemplation of dark matter – as she demonstrated by sharing the collection’s title poem, Life on Mars,” which begins:

Tina says what if dark matter is like the space between people
When what holds them together isn’t exactly love, and I think
That sounds right – how strong the pull can be, as if something
That knows better won’t let you drift apart so easily, and how
Small and heavy you feel, stuck there spinning in place.

Not only was the audience given a chance to procure a much-coveted autograph, but they also received a precious behind-the-scenes pass to the poet’s mind at work. During the reading, and in this post-reading question and answer session, audience members were afforded the privilege of seeing through the eyes of Tracy K. Smith – as the award-winning author, David Bowie lover, daughter of a dearly loved, but lost, father, and as the new mother. She was witty, approachable, and a master of her trade – her poetry probing for profound meaning and reflecting upon all of life’s significance, wonder, and beauty, however big or small.

Charlee Bassillo is an English and Education major at Georgian Court University where she expects to graduate in Spring 2014 to pursue a career in secondary education.


Smith, Tracy K. “Life on Mars.” Life on Mars. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2011. 37 – 42. Print.