If a poem could exist on a rocket ship traveling at the speed of light where, in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, space compresses, mass increases, and time slows, what kind of poem might it be? According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which applies at cosmological scales in contrast to his earlier theory of special relativity that applies at local scales such as the solar system, profound distortions of spacetime would have to occur in a universe where the speed of light is constant.
In M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! (Wesleyan University Press, 2008), created from the legal decision about the African slave ship named Zong where some 150 slaves were murdered by drowning so that the ship’s owners could collect the insurance money, the arrangements of text units in many sections of the book-length poem seem to inhabit aspects of Einstein’s conceptions of the universe.
While quantum supercomputers are still at the early stages of development, they will replace digital computers, making the processing of data billions of times faster. Whereas digital computers rely on the binary code of 1 and 0, quantum supercomputers use qubits that can exist as 1, as 0, and, most importantly, as any superposition between 1 and 0. The binary code in digital computing exists in one of two definite states: “You’re either with us or against us....”—George W. Bush, 2001. Unlike binary code, quantum supercomputer qubits behave as probabilistic superpositions of all states like the way subatomic particles behave in Werner Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics.
With poets using the Earth itself as a mode of composition for textual erasures and explorations of physical systems in relation to poetics, I imagine a future where an astronaut-poet might plant an adamantine sound poem in the icy particle rings of Saturn to see if it could withstand bombardments and pressures from the cosmos. Perhaps the icy particles would play the decomposing sound poem, changing as it decays, to a live audience on a nearby space station. Maybe the poem would be titled after the language of celestial mechanics: “Orbital Resonances.”
From cultural narratives to religion to comic-book characters to conceptions of self, origin stories often serve to explain belief systems and histories within the context of a defined beginning, middle, and end. Origin stories are narrative devices steeped in limitations of both form and content.
One of my first encounters with poetry that overtly addressed theoretical physics and cosmology was Frederick Seidel’s book, The Cosmos Poems (FSG, 2000), which I read, without any knowledge about the author, as soon as it was published. This would have been a year after I graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, when I was teaching innumerable sections of freshman composition and a literature course in fiction. In my copy of The Cosmos Poems, the corner of the page of the poem, “Who the Universe Is,” is turned down, and I drew a small star on the corner. Or is that an x?