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We’ve sent animals and plants into outer space and observed them. We’ve sent scientists of various disciplines to run experiments—that is, to do their work in that environment and see what they turn up. But we have yet to send a writer into space solely for the purpose of doing his or her work.

You can find first-person prose descriptions of what it’s like to be in outer space, some written, and most spoken, either transmitted at the time or after the fact, in interviews. But we have yet to read the first lines of poetry composed in space. That’s my proposal to NASA: Send a poet into outer space.

The closest anyone has come (according to the Internet) to creating poetry in space doesn’t really count, if you ask me:


Berlin-based Japanese sound poet/performer/composer, Tomomi Adachi and Japanese Media Artist, Akihiro Kubota will send a program code to an artificial satellite ARTSAT1:INVADER, the satellite will interpret the code, perform a sound poem in the orbit with a voice synthesizer chip, and broadcast the voice directly to the earth by radio a few times in two weeks from June 21, 2014 (the solstice). The broadcasting will reach many major cities in the world. Probably this is the first experiment of sound art and experimental poetry in outer space by human beings.

– from the website for the “Cosmic Poem Project”


We can do better. We can send a real live carbon-based poet up there and observe the fascinating way poems (instead of the usual bacilli or beans) develop in space.

Funding is tight, I know. NASA has a hard enough time getting money for its “real” work. But I ask you: What good are the Poetry Foundation’s tens of millions of dollars, if not to expand the frontiers, literally in this case, of the poetic art? They need to step up and become the Maecenas to someone’s Virgil. That’s a classical reference: How well do those survive at zero G?

Volunteers, I suspect, won’t be lacking. (One such volunteer happens to be writing this essay. I could pipette some stuff into test tubes up there, if you need me to.) Will the poet who’s chosen go accessible, penning something diaristic and anecdotal called Space Journal—or bust out with experimental technique, increasing the white space between individual letters into constellations that, like the universe itself, resist/invite meaning? Will the poet’s being surrounded by modern marvels of math and engineering lead back to an intensely patterned formalism?

We may never find out unless The Poetry Foundation and NASA collaborate on what I hereby announce as the Poet in Space Project. Let’s start this crash program now—before the Russians or the Chinese beat us to it.

Can you think of a poet who would be perfect for the historic responsibility of First Poet in Space? (It would be a bigger honor, imho, than being Poet Laureate.) I know I’m basically sending this post into the vast backward and abysm of cyberspace, hoping for a sign of life, an answer…. But if you’re out there, fellow Poetry Breathing Life Form, please feel free to share your nomination in the Comments thread below.