Monday, January 21, 2008

Ad Astra

Since it has been miserably cold here in New England, I spent much of this weekend sitting in front of the fireplace, sipping sake, and watching season 1 of Star Trek: Enterprise downloaded from iTunes. Hence the little hiatus from blogging.

I watched some of the series when it originally premiered on UPN. I found it more likable than Voyager or the Next Generation, neither of which I enjoyed all that much, since I found them a bit too preoccupied by the preachiness that seems to infect the future.
(I plead ignorance to Deep Space Nine, having only see a handful of episodes of that series). But my schedule being divided precariously between work, the Y, and home to die (rinse and repeat) I was never able to keep up with Enterprise in its original broadcast run.

Being a child of the 20th Century, I have been and always shall be a fan of The Original Series, but it is nice to make some new friends.
Watching Star Trek with my dad on our old brown Zenith color console (see above) was one of the seminal memories of my childhood. That TV was a wonderful, solid machine. It must have weighed 9 tons. But like many electronic organisms, it was somewhat fragile on the inside. It had tubes that would glow orange, and occasionally pop, with a fizz of ozone and insualtion, and need to be extracted and tested on the tube tester at Radio Shack, on Payne Avenue. My father liked to fix things for himself: cars, TVs, toasters, even watches. His father, my grandfather, was a jeweler, and he repaired watches for a living, in a little shop on Main Street, in downtown Buffalo, in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. I think this must explain my obsession with prosody--time.


And how does any of this relate to poetry? Only tangentially. In one of the episodes of Enterprise, Captain Jonathan Archer shows his Vulcan science officer an astronomy book he read as a child. I had many such books myself, thanks to my Aunt Janet, my father's sister, who always took an interest in my scientific education, and who did something mysterious, related to music, at Moog. Every now and then a microscope, a package of books, or a geology set would appear from Aunt Janet in the mail.

As I was drifting off to sleep on Sunday night, I thought about Johnny Archer's book, and I tried to recall all of the poems about astronomy I had ever read-- but I really couldn't come up with very many. There is this one, this one, this one, and this one. That's all I could think of, off the top of my head.

My favorite astronomical poem is the one called "Mayflies." The last few lines of the piece are a bit clunky, I think, but that word quadrillions in stanza 1 is worth the price of admission--absolutely breathtaking, isn't it?

Before encountering this poem, I had never heard such a number ever mentioned in a poem before, or in a science class, where large numbers (for the sake of convenience) are usually expressed in abstract scientific notation. It is nice to learn that in an advanced, technical society, such as our own, words have not entirely lost their powers of enchantment.

The truly wonderful thing about the word quadrillion, for instance, in the conext of Mr. Wilbur's poem, is that within that word another word, and a whole other world, dances. And this only becomes apparent through the poetry.

Kind of cool, huh?

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