A poem written for and realized in zero gravity

Eduardo Kac

For over thirty years I have been exploring the limits and possibilities of an expanded notion of poetry, one that has close relations to the materiality of science and technology. I create poems that push language into unforeseen realms of experience.

In the 1980s and 1990s I developed holographic and digital poetry. In doing so, I participated in the international movement that established the foundations of contemporary media poetry, as thoroughly documented in my book Media Poetry (Bristol: Intellect, 2007). In 2007, as the first poet-in-residence at the Biennale de Poètes en Val-de-Marne, I held a solo exhibition of my holographic, digital and biological poems. In the same context, the Biennale de Poètes published an anthology of my poetry entitled Hodibis Potax (Paris: Éditions Action Poétique, 2007). In this book I published a manifesto of Space Poetry, in which I defend the idea that new possibilities will be created for poetry when language can liberate itself from the constraints of gravity.

Inner Telescope, the first space poem I have actually realized, is articulated around the word “MOI,” which is organized geometrically as a symmetrical three-dimensional object.  Inner Telescope has no top or bottom, no front or back. It is composed of a letter made of a two-dimensional surface (M), another letter made of empty space (O), and a last letter made of a three-dimensional cylinder (I). As an empty cylinder, the letter “I” traverses the “O” placed in the center of the “M,” enabling the reader to see the other side of the environment through the hole in the “I.” This spatial arrangement creates a poetic image that connects the “self” (moi) with its surrounding environment through an opening. This opening stretches the letter “O” to the two ends of the cylinder, becoming an eyepiece and evoking both ends of a telescope. Far from our home planet, we can point our poetic instruments towards our subjective interior and, thus, ponder on our future on Earth and our ever-expanding place in the universe.

The letter “M,” when seen from another perspective suggests a human form. In this case, the tubular form protruding from the navel evokes a cut umbilical cord and, thus, produces the image of humans severing the ties that bind them to their origins (our planet). In addition, the overall architecture of the poem remotely evokes the intersection of planes and cylinders that characterize the external form of the International Space Station (ISS). It also retains stylized traces of the Hubble’s overall form.

When an astronaut sees the Earth from space, he perceives the global multiplicity of the planet as singular: our home. Inner Telescope proposes a mirror image, in the sense that the singular “moi” stands here for the collective self: humanity.

Beyond its lyrical dimension, Inner Telescope offers three specific contributions to the development of space art: 1) it’s the first poem written for and realized in zero gravity; 2) it’s the first visual work physically made outside of the Earth, thus making it an extraterrestrial art piece; 3) it is the first performance conceived for and carried out outside our home planet, and is entitled “Performance for 1 astronaut, 1 pair of scissors and 2 sheets of paper”.

I conceived Inner Telescope to be fabricated out of paper—a material always available onboard the ISS—and deployed in a zero gravity environment. On Earth, the three-dimensional form would be extremely fragile and easily distorted; however, in the weightless environment for which it was conceived, Inner Telescope experiences the isotropic forces that characterize zero gravity. They act on the entire work simultaneously, holding it suspended in space and sustaining its intended form and function. Inner Telescope gives continuity to my vision of poetry in weightlessness and outside of the Earth, and pushes creative writing into an entirely new realm.

Kac Web