UPtotheCosmos: A universal poem travels through interstellar space | Culture


In outer space there is a poem floating. It was launched in the form of a radio wave at dawn last Sunday, Spanish peninsular time. From Punta Arenas (Chile), in the Strait of Magellan, far to the south of the planet, where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet. Right now the verses travel to the Coal Sack Nebula, far away, 600 light years away. From a planetary boundary to a cosmic boundary. So the poem will arrive at its destination in the year 2622, around this time, and probably no one will be there to receive it. Who knows, maybe some alien entity will find it along the way and start counting Alexandrians. It is what astronomer Carl Sagan would have called “a message in a bottle thrown into the cosmic ocean.”

The project, called UPtotheCosmos, is part of another previous project, each more astonished, devised in Madrid by the organizers of the Poetas festival. It is the Universal Poem, a poem that tries to collect the verses of all humanity, an extensive choral work in which anyone can participate via the internet: what the surrealists baptized as an exquisite corpse. The first 22,000 verses have been sent to outer space, but this poem that tends to eternity and infinity continues: some ideas that could well have come from the fanciful brain of Jorge Luis Borges.

The Chilean collective Casagrande is another partner in this quixotic adventure. “We collaborated with them in Madrid in 2018, bombing the Plaza Mayor with 100,000 poems from a helicopter. Then we thought: ‘Why not send a poem into space?’” recalls Pepe Olona, ​​coordinator of Poetas. And they got to work. “These are very simple ideas, but very complex to carry out: they have extremely complicated production processes,” he adds.

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Around the event, a show was created with the presence of astrophysicists and with the sea in the background. The launch was made visible by a laser pointed at the sky. Why is he being sent to the Coalsack Nebula? “It’s a dark spot in the sky that we illuminate with poetry,” says Peru Saizprez, a member of Poetas. “In addition, it has a great symbolic value, it is close to the Southern Cross, which is the emblematic constellation of that hemisphere.” The Southern Cross is the reference that, analogous to the Big Dipper in the northern hemisphere, was used to orient by the original cultures that inhabited the area before Magellan’s voyage, and to whom now we also want to pay homage.

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This image from the MPG/ESO telescope shows part of the huge cloud of dust and gas known as the Coalsack Nebula.
This image from the MPG/ESO telescope shows part of the huge cloud of dust and gas known as the Coalsack Nebula.THAT

The entire technological process for the poetic launch has been carried out by the Danish company Hygge Universe, dedicated to robotics and satellite communication: the poem has been translated into a radio wave that, alehop, has been sent through a satellite antenna in Earth orbit. The event was not without anecdotes. “As soon as the poem was sent, when we were celebrating, a series of lights appeared in the sky that seemed to be going to intercept the poem,” says Olona. They were not unpoetic alien ships or enemies of the space invaders, but satellites from Elon Musk’s company and other emerging private space companies, which often fly over the area and can be seen crossing the sky with the naked eye. The planet Earth is surrounded by flying things.

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science and poetry

The launch took place within the scope of the Acrux festival, which is held in Punta Arenas with the support of the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI), and which tries to combine science and poetry, two disciplines that sometimes draws an absurd red line, as is usually established more generally between the sciences and the humanities, the so-called two cultures. “However, there is an ancient tradition that connects both, which has not been sufficiently explored and which we want to explicitly highlight,” says Julio Carrasco, director of the festival and member of Casagrande. There are not a few poets who have used science in their work, such as Apollinaire, Ernesto Cardenal, Raúl Zurita or Vicente Huidobro. Perhaps the pioneer was the Roman Lucretius with the long didactic poem Nature, written in the first century before Christ, which includes elements of cosmology, atomism or biology.

Chart of the small constellation of The Southern Cross, showing all the stars that can be seen with the naked eye on a clear, dark night.  This constellation and its neighbors are home to the huge dark nebula called the Coalsack.
Chart of the small constellation of The Southern Cross, showing all the stars that can be seen with the naked eye on a clear, dark night. This constellation and its neighbors are home to the huge dark nebula called the Coalsack.ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

The Chilean Nicanor Parra was a mathematician, and the Spanish academic Clara Janés has frequently delved into physics in her verse. Also in Spain there was a wide list of poets with a scientific outburst in that literary movement called the Nocilla Generation, in the middle of the first decade of the second millennium, which included poets such as Agustín Fernández Mallo, Javier Moreno or Vicente Luis Mora. . “Scientists have also been forced to frequently resort to metaphor to state their discoveries, such as those parallel lines that come together at infinity,” adds Carrasco. Without going any further, the word quark, which names a type of the fundamental particles that make up the universe, comes from the abstruse and poetic novel Finnegan’s Stele (1939) by James Joyce, in the limelight this year for the centennial celebration of the Ulises.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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