The Universe in Verse: Sarah Kay Reads Whitman and Performs Her Splendid Song-Poem “Astronaut”

The Universe in Verse: Sarah Kay Reads Whitman and Performs Her Splendid Song-Poem “Astronaut”

The Universe in Verse: Sarah Kay Reads Whitman and Performs Her Splendid Song-Poem “Astronaut”

” A leaf of yard is no less than the journey work of the stars,” Walt Whitman bellowed from the golden age of American astronomy, through which he lived wide-eyed with wonder and ablaze with a belief in the unity of whatever, the interconnectedness and inter-belonging of whatever– the telescopic and the tiny, the fascinating and the sorrowful.

Whitman’s stimulating ethos and its cosmic inspirations were the subject of an unique mini edition of The Universe in Verse I hosted on Governors Island, titled The Astronomy of Walt Whitman— a dual celebration of the beloved poet’s bicentennial and the undertaking to construct New York City’s first public observatory at Pioneer Functions, simply across the East River, which the poet himself passed through daily aboard the ferries he treasured as “great living poems.”

Among the performers was chemistry major turned poet and spoken-word maestra Sarah Kay, co-founder of Project VOICE— a terrific effort working with students from kindergarten to university around the world, utilizing poetry as a website of pleasure and a tool of empowerment to offer young people not only a language of self-expression but a mode of self-understanding– which is, naturally, the structure of other-understanding and of all the values Whitman so valued and celebrated in his verse: democracy, love, justice, self-acceptance, social harmony. What pleasure it would have been for Whitman, who so frequently attended to the poets of the future, to hear one such poet of uncommon talent channel his never-ceasing words epochs after he returned his borrowed stardust to deep space.


by Walt Whitman

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars,

And the pismire is equally best, and a grain of sand, and the egg

of the wren,

And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,

And the running blackberry would embellish the parlors of paradise,

And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all equipment,

And the cow crunching with depress ‘d head surpasses any statue,

And a mouse is wonder enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.

I find I integrate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits,

grains, esculent roots,

And am stucco ‘d with quadrupeds and birds all over,

And have actually distanced what lags me for good reasons,

However call any thing back once again when I desire it.

In vain the speeding or shyness,

In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach,

In vain the mastodon retreats underneath its own powder ‘d bones,

In vain items stand leagues off and assume manifold shapes,

In vain the ocean settling in hollows and the fantastic monsters lying low,

Fruitless the buzzard homes herself with the sky,

In vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs,

Fruitless the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods,

Fruitless the razor-bill ‘d auk sails far north to Labrador,

I follow rapidly, I ascend to the nest in the crack of the cliff.

As an enhance to the Whitman classic and the astronomical overtone of the program, I asked Sarah to read one of her own poems too– a perspectival masterpiece entitled “Astronaut” and found in her altogether remarkable and splendidly titled poetry collection No Matter the Wreckage( public library). That she performed it hours after the first-ever all-female spacewalk only contributes to the cascading loveliness of the event– in Whitman’s day, women could barely walk to the opera without a male escort; how delighted he would have been, provided his ardent insistence on women’s equality as a pillar of democracy and his pronouncement that “the universe has nothing much better than the best womanhood,” to see three female astronauts stroll boldly into interplanetary area.


by Sarah Kay

I see the moon, the moon sees me. The moon sees somebody I do not see.

God bless the moon, and God bless me. And God bless the someone that I don’t see.

If I get to paradise prior to you do, I’ll make a hole and pull you through.

I’ll compose your name on every star. And that method the world will not appear up until now.

The astronaut will not be at work today. He has hired ill.

He has actually shut off his mobile phone, his pager, his laptop, his alarm clock.

There is a fat yellow feline asleep on his sofa, rain against his windows,

and not even a hint of coffee in the kitchen area air.

Everybody is in a tizzy.

The engineers on the fifteenth flooring have stopped working

on the particle maker, the anti-gravity space is leaking,

and even the freckled kid with glasses (whose just job is to clean

out the trash) is nervous: fumbles the bag, spills a banana peel

and a paper cup. Nobody notices.

They are too hectic computing how much this will mean for lost time.

The number of galaxies are we losing per minute;-LRB-

and the length of time before the rocket can be launched?


An electron flies off the energy cloud.

A black hole has appeared.

A mom ends up setting the table for supper.

A Law & Order marathon is beginning.

The astronaut is asleep.

He has forgotten to switch off his watch,

which ticks against his wrist like a metal pulse.

He does not hear it.

He imagines coral reefs and plankton.

His fingers discover the pillowcases cruising masts.

He turns on his side, opens his eyes as soon as.

He believes that scuba divers need to have the most wonderful task in the word.

So much water

to slide through.

For more wonders from The Universe in Verse, relish astrophysicist Janna Levin checking out Whitman’s traditional ” When I Heard the Learn ‘d Astronomer,” Adrienne Rich’s ” Planetarium,” and Maya Angelou’s ” A Brave and Startling Reality,” which soared to the stars aboard the Orion spacecraft, then revisit Neil Gaiman’s touching poetic tribute to the Quaker astronomer who verified relativity and catapulted Einstein into star, unifying war-torn humankind under one cosmic dome of reality.

Charming Whitman-era portraiture by Brooklyn Tintype

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