by Sherman Alexie
Dangerous Astronomy Introduction
In A Nutshell
Shmoop's gonna go out on a limb (ugh, don't we always?) and say that Sherman Alexie can write just about anything. Poet, novelist, screenwriter, and basketball enthusiast, Alexie picks up awards like a hiker picks up ticks.
As a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Native American who grew up in the Northwest of the United States, Alexie often writes about Native American culture and the plight of contemporary Native Americans within white America. And that makes for some pretty compelling stuff. No wonder he's racking up the accolades.
While he's probably most famous for his fiction and prose (most recently, Alexie's novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award for Young People's literature in 2007), his poetry is just as awesome, and "Dangerous Astronomy" is no exception.
"Dangerous Astronomy" is typical for Alexie in the sense that it's an accessible poem with a friendly, conversational tone—much like his friendly, hilarious novels. But unlike most of his poetry, this one is written in a traditional form—the villanelle. It seems like nothing is too big of a task for this guy. He's definitely not afraid to give a new twist to the old classics.
In this poem, he writes about humility with such ease and honesty, it feels as if we're right there in the room with the speaker, listening to his every thought. And that's part of what makes Alexie so great. No matter what he writes about, he somehow makes it seem relevant to everyone.
Why Should I Care?
Let's see. A formal poem about a crying baby in a dark bedroom? Fun? Hardly.
Don't worry, Alexie's magical poetry skills can turn even the most depressing or mundane experiences into awesome poems, which speak to everyone, even you.
See, Alexie's speaker, like any father, wants to be a big deal to his family. Like a big, big deal. But, as it turns out, life spoon-feeds the speaker a slice of humble pie. Unfortunately, that'll happen to all of us from time to time, and Alexie uses this experience to draw the reader into the poem. By showing his narrator's vulnerability, he reveals a little bit about what makes all of us human.
Through a few humbling moments in a bedroom, Alexie's narrator realizes that he can't be everything to his wife and son. No duh, right? But that moment of realizing there are limits to being a human are what awaken us to how wonderful and mysterious life can be. Like trying to love the people in your life but realizing that means you'll have to put them before yourself sometimes. And that can be hard, but that's what this poem is all about.
And as it turns out, humble pie is kind of tasty. Not gonna lie.