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'The Poetry of Spaceflight': Unassuming, but inspired

For millennia, humans have looked to the skies in wonder, fear and longing. Senior Library Assistant Julie Swarstad Johnson captures this wide array of poetic sentiment resulting from space exploration efforts in her exhibit "The Poetry of Spaceflight."

The poems are accompanied by the work of celebrated space painter Robert McCall, a marriage Johnson deemed "serendipitous timing." The exhibit is on display in the Jeremy Ingalls Gallery of the Poetry Center from now until Nov. 19.

The exhibit is slow to draw you in, but well worth your patience. Begin with the display cases near the front desk—each one showcases reactions to various space related events, from the moon landing to science-fiction musings. Next, find yourself in the far left corner, inundated with the dreamy realism of Robert McCall and a collection of more personal poems. As a sort of mental palate cleanser—a necessary moment for non-reading rumination—sit down and watch the slideshow of images from the surface of Mars captured by the HiRISE camera equipped to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Naturally, many of the poets on display approach the topic of spaceflight from a humanistic perspective, holding up a singular existence against the vast expanse of space. Allen Ginsberg, in his 1961 poem "Poem Rocket," offers genuinely: "Which way will the sunflowers turn surrounded by millions of suns?"

Reflecting in his poem "Moon Landing" on the lunar landing and its televised spectacle, W.H. Auden retorts, "Worth going to see?/ I can well believe it./ Worth seeing? Mneh!"

For those that see space as the final frontier, the next chapter in human existence, the manifested destiny of manifest destiny itself, it’s all too easy to fall into dreams of utopian ideals.

In one of the most nuanced pieces on display, "Arcadia, Mars," Elizabeth Rogers exposes the layered complexity of human suffering against the facade of peace, perfection and consolation.

The title refers to Arcadia Planitia, a massive plain on the surface of Mars.

Arcadia also refers to a beautifully lush region of Greece, spawning its long-time literary use as a term for a utopia. In this way, Rogers is suggesting—on both the personal and the planetary level—that the utopian can quickly become dystopian.

Regardless of whether the age of spaceflight is upon us, the capital interest in cislunar space makes it a breeding ground for corporate cooperation, with the non-profit organization Mars One stating on their website that they are "looking for large, international companies to become mission partners" who can "accustom their sponsorship according to their company strategy and needs."

NASA, in an Aug. 9 press release, revealed a list of private companies selected to develop deep-space habitation technologies, stating that the "selections are part of a phased approach that will catalyze commercial investment in low-Earth orbit."

Now, when the night sky is blotted with blinking satellite-billboards, will the zeal of space be dulled? Probably.

But for now, look up at the stars, think of the poetry in your heart and remember that your feet are on the ground.

Serendipitous timing indeed.


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