Science Poem Manifesto


Earlier this year, I received a charming email from a pair of Helsinki-based artists and designers who work under the name of OK DO. OK DO is a socially-minded design think tank and online publication; they dug Universe and wanted to know if I'd contribute to a new publication and exhibition project they were working on. The project, Science Poems, was perfectly up my alley: a variety of articles and work loosely structured around the "poetry and multi-sensorial aesthetics of natural sciences rather than their functionality and logic."

For the occasion, I wrote a short piece about the aesthetics of Science Fiction: The Science Poem Manifesto. Banged out in a lucid forty-five minutes, it was my most effortless piece of writing in recent memory, presumably because the themes had been banging around in my head, unexpressed, for a decade.


As Stanislaw Lem wrote, science fiction "comes from a whorehouse but...wants to break into the palace where the most sublime thoughts of human history are stored." Within the shadowy, grimacing frame of its own poetics, it does. Because the sublime thoughts of human history have always been projected outwards, to the vastness outside of our minds. Science fiction is a movement outwards, not inwards: "up, up, and away."

Science fiction knows, like the science poets do, that the sky begins at our feet.

The science poets look at our sky and they see three moons, or a ringed planet in sultry sunset; they hear a voice whispering across the void, hear the malice in its tone, but still find how to forgive it. Science poets see a tentacle and know its embrace. Science fiction is the grief of tomorrow and the horror of today. Science poetry makes no illusions.

The finished Science Poems book is an honest-to-goodness marvel, marrying interviews with chemists, astronomers, curators, and fashion designers with short fiction, photography, and aesthetic references to everything from John Cage to electromagnetism. It features discussions with Marc-Olivier Wahler, curator of Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Cosmic Wonder, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, and Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Art and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. I am proud to have been involved.

Read the entire Science Poem Manifesto here.

As far as I know, the Science Poems book itself is only available for sale online via Napa Books in Helsinki. If you live in Europe, a list of available booksellers can be found here. Also, a lot of the content -- all exceptional -- is available for free online. Lastly, as note to our continental readership: OK DO will be having a book party for Science Poems next Thursday, August 5th at Berlin's Do You Read Me?! bookshop.

[Reposted from SPACE CANON]

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Hi Claire,
I just came across your Science Poem Manifesto at OK DO and loved it!
It captures so much of science fiction that is often ignored (and all of science fiction as it should be). Beautifully written, too. Thanks.

-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Dr. Smart, with sweeping dioramics,
summarized theory accepted today:
âThe first few laws of thermodynamics:
You canât win, break even or get away.

âNo matter speed of acceleration,
the universe runs down since the Big Bang.
The fate of order is dissipation.
The spring, once sprung, canât be re-sprung. It sprang.

âA system needs energy to survive
or itâs unable to do work, of course.
On galactic scales or like us, alive,
complexity is the result of force.

âAnd though the second law says we canât win,
itâs only âlawâ to a statistician.â

-- James Ph. Kotsybar

The Universe is expanding,
Faster than the limit of light,
Beyond common understanding.

Cosmology is demanding.
Its study is by no means slight.
The Universe is expanding.

Physicsâ heroes, quite outstanding,
Have applied their full mental might
Beyond common understanding.

Thereâs no point in reprimanding,
As we gaze out into the night,
The Universe is expanding.

The truth of fact is commanding.
Whatever is has to be right,
Beyond common understanding.

Einsteinâs physics notwithstanding,
Much quicker than what we call bright,
The Universe is expanding
Beyond common understanding.

-- James Ph. Kotsybar

He looked into the lens-system and saw
an unimaginably small world grow.
Now does this image in history draw
from van Leeuwenhoek or Galileo?
Through lenses both passed to another realm
of being, since their broadened reference frame
allowed them visions that could overwhelm.
Then for everyone nothing stayed the same.
The vaster oneâs view the clearer things get,
of cosmic, subatomic, even time,
and, while the masses may first be upset,
brought to some summit that they didnât climb,
itâs crucial so all the ingenious might
be informed of the remarkable sight.

-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Per perceiving predilections effect,
researchers search precautions to assure
that their constructed theories wonât be wrecked
by accredited critics who abjure
results from lax experimentation
which funnels too few affecting factors.
Scientistâs psyches lack isolation --
all audiences are also actors.
Objectivity varies with the minds
involved whose realities rarely budge;
what one expects to see is what one finds.
One must watch âblindâ to impartially judge --
so dataâs distinct from observations
which bind to beliefâs anticipations.

Dear Claire,
I've got enough to manifest a book myself, but I'll leave you this one more to fill you with the Holiday Spirit.
-- Jim

-- James Ph. Kotsybar

Below subatomic, the particles
slip through Heisenbergâs uncertainty nets.
They cannot even be called articles;
theyâre just mathematical epithets.
Though we may say they have up or down spins
(we may even find them charming or strange),
like angels that dance on the heads of pins,
it takes metaphysics to find their range.
They have no shape we can define, except
as bleary fields of energy. Until
we measure them, thereâs no place where theyâre kept;
their locus is totally vibratile.
They pluck at space like an instrument string,
at this scale. Quark! The hadron angels sing!