Send Brooklyn Into Outer Space

When I first read Tracy K. Smith‘s five part poem “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” I was overwhelmed. You could spend a whole day wandering through the gorgeous imagery contained in one line of the poem, let alone all five of its parts. It’s no wonder Smith won a Pulitzer for Life on Mars, the fantastic collection of poetry “Stars” appears in. My task was to read the poem and respond to it for class, but I couldn’t help getting lost in it. The poem daunted me at first because of the way it deals with multiple worlds at once–outer space, movies, and Smith’s own life memories all factor in prominently. It wasn’t until I read it for the third or fourth time that I truly began to appreciate it. And appreciate it I did. One passage in particular continues to amaze me:

“Maybe the  dead know, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being.”

Besides being the most moving conception of the afterlife I have ever read, this passage is remarkable for the juxtaposition of worlds Smith employs in her imagery. The poem as a whole contains numerous references to city life (Smith lives in Brooklyn), and here she draws on the sounds and sights of city traffic to describe the vast expanse of outer space. Ordinarily, a city street would have very little to do with stars and distant galaxies. Despite their dissimilarity, Smith masterfully grounds the abstract concept of the unlimited universe in the angry car horns of a Brooklyn street. It’s gripping, immediate, and stunningly original poetry.

With this passage as an example, apply Smith’s technique to your own writing. Think of a place that is very familiar to you and pick out the most important sensory information from that place. Then, use the sights and sounds of your familiar place to describe something or somewhere completely different.

Comments

  1. Constance W. Hassett says:

    What a great passage from “My God, It’s Full of Stars.” The deft comment by Charboneau will surely stimulate some wonderfully unexpected urban-&-all-else poems. CWH