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Falmouth-Born Poet Wins 2012 Pulitzer Prize


Tracy K. Smith is the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. She won the award on her 40th birthday, for her third collection of published poetry, “Life on Mars”.

Smith was born in Falmouth, grew up in California, but returned to Massachusetts as an undergraduate at Harvard. She now teaches at Princeton University.  She joined us to talk about her poetry roots in Cambridge.

Excerpts From “Life On Mars” by Tracy K. Smith

The Weather in Space

Is God being or pure force? The wind
Or what commands it? When our lives slow
And we can hold all that we love, it sprawls
In our laps like a gangly doll. When the storm
Kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing
After all we’re certain to lose, so alive—
Faces radiant with panic

The Speed of Belief – (Excerpt)
In memoriam, Floyd William Smith 1935–2008

When your own sweet father died
You woke before first light
And ate half a plate of eggs and grits,
And drank a glass of milk.

After you’d left, I sat in your place
And finished the toast bits with jam
And the cold eggs, the thick bacon
Flanged in fat, savoring the taste.

Then I slept, too young to know how narrow
And grave the road before you seemed—
All the houses zipped tight, the night’s
Few clouds muddy as cold coffee.

You stayed gone a week, and who were we
Without your clean profile nicking away
At anything that made us afraid?
One neighbor sent a cake. We ate

The baked chickens, the honeyed hams.
We bowed our heads and prayed
You’d come back safe,
Knowing you would.


  • Tracy K. Smith, poet, Pulitizer Prize Winner


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  • girl with the bad grammar

    After my heartfelt joy for Ms. Smith’s achievement of the Pulitzer, I must say how absolutely disheartened  I was to hear her say “David Bowie,… who I have a lot of love for..”.  This is from the mouth of a Princeton professor.  Folks, if I (the girl that skipped diagraming sentences & has horrible grammar ) am catching these things we are in trouble.  I understand the language is changing but come on!!!

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Ah, the who/whom trap. Thorny one. I’d guess that Tracy K. Smith would have used the proper “whom” when writing. But live, unscripted speech is less predictable.

      We’re constantly having that debate in our office: How strictly should we adhere to the purest rules of grammar, versus, how much should we reflect how people actually talk since radio, after all, is a medium experienced aurally. 

      For example, when I write my scripts for the show, they’re full of fragmented sentences, because that’s how people talk. But, I try to limit my use of frags when writing online, because too many half phrases just look sloppy, contrived and annoying. 
      So, what to do? (Insert debate on comma use here, I suppose.) Take it from me, after you read “Life on Mars”, Smith’s poetry collection, your fear for the future of the nation might subside a bit. It will leave you with no doubt regarding her intelligence.

      • Girl With The Bad Grammar…..

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply- My comment was not about her intelligence- it was about the idea of Princeton, as one of the top educational institutions, dumbing down the use of language….

        • Princeton’14

          As a current Princeton student, I’ll have you know that we’re doing nothing to change the English language. Pton is old, but English is older. 

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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