I’m trying to get back into writing somewhat regularly, and I noticed some friends on Twitter posting using the hashtag #NaPoWriMo – National Poem Writing Month. Apparently it is the poetry equivalent of NaNoWriMo (Nationak Novel Writing Month), and you’re supposed to write one poem per day for the month of April. I’m not going to be able to keep up that pace, but I thought I might try my hand at some poetry. Poems are usually pretty bite-sized, and you’re actually supposed to agonize over every single word so my over-editing habits that slow me down for longer writing may actually be a good thing!
This first poem is inspired by this audio recording returned to Earth by Perseverance. Turn up the volume and listen to the sound of wind on Mars.
Hearing that recording got me thinking about how quiet Mars is. On the whole planet, the only things making any appreciable noise are Curiosity and Perseverance. Everywhere else it’s just the wind occasionally moving sand or dislodging a pebble or rock.
So without further ado, here’s the poem:
Soft wind traces the faces of the rocks
And the world sounds like a held breath.
In that patient silence could you listen?
Sigh of wind
hiss of sand
a pebble falls.
Or would you need to make noise?
I wrote the poem above as an ode to the Mars rover Opportunity, which has been in hibernation since a global dust storm earlier this summer blocked out the sun. Not great for a solar powered rover. But on the other hand, global dust storms warm the atmosphere, so it’s possible the rover will wake up and phone home… we just need to keep listening. I got my start in planetary science working on the MER rovers, so Opportunity holds a special place in my heart, and a poem seemed like a nice way to honor such an amazing mission. Whether Opportunity wakes up or not, 14 years is pretty good for a mission built to last only 90 days.
I opted for a sonnet because they come with a nicely defined structure to follow, which makes the bank page a little less intimidating. There are two main forms of sonnet in English, the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan sonnet. I went with the Petrarchan since it is formatted as a sort of point/counterpoint, which fit with what I wanted to say. It also has the more challenging rhyme scheme and I’m a glutton for punishment.
It took a surprisingly long time to write this poem, but I am pleased with the result. People seemed to enjoy it when I shared it on social media; one online acquaintance (Seán Doran) even made an alternative version of it, using the same image but with realistic colors and an artificially extended sky, and the rover photoshopped onto the tracks.
I am considering making planetary poems a recurring thing. They’re a nice way to satisfy both sides of my brain, with a nice mix of writing, science, and graphic design. And they’re good for sharing on social media. For now I’ll probably stick to structured forms: sonnets and haiku, depending on how ambitious I’m feeling. I’m open to ideas for topics, so feel free to make suggestions in the comments!