Poem by professor emerita is going to the moon

A poem by Patricia Clark, professor emerita of writing and former poet laureate of Grand Rapids, is slated to be launched to the moon as part of the "Lunar Codex" project.

The poem, "Astronomy 'In Perfect Silence,'" will be part of a time capsule headed to the moon in 2024. Lunar Codex project leaders say they are using surplus payload space for multiple moon missions to archive the works of more than 30,000 artists from around the world on the moon.

Clark's piece, which will be stored on archival technology, is part of the "Polaris" collection, which is scheduled to launch in November 2024. The poem is also in an anthology named "The Polaris Trilogy: Poems for the Moon."

She was invited by an editor soliciting poems for the project to contribute a piece, an invitation that Clark eagerly accepted. She learned that her poem was chosen with an email that opened with, "You're going to the Moon! Well, to be more precise, your poem is."

More: Read the poem on Patricia Clark's website .

For Clark, who was poet laureate for Grand Rapids from 2005-2007 and also served as Grand Valley's poet-in-residence, it is a thrill for her poem to be included in the payload carrying artistic material that is set to stay at the moon in perpetuity.

"My husband says he's going to look up there and think about my poem," Clark said.

A person smiles while seated at a wooden table. A red folder sits between each hand and arm.
Patricia Clark is also a former poet laureate of Grand Rapids and also served as the Grand Valley poet-in-residence.
Image credit - Courtesy of Patricia Clark/Photo by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Poets were asked to tell the judges if they were writing about the moon, stars or sun. Clark said she chose a form called abecedarian, which is a 26-line poem in which each line starts with a letter, A-Z, in order of the alphabet (and with a little poetic license where necessary, as Clark did with the line starting with "X.").

The poem is a celebration of astronomy and the wonder of space.

Her inspiration was an astronomy professor from her undergraduate time at the University of Washington whose enthusiasm for the subject stayed with her even though she never pursued the discipline professionally.

"When I saw the call for work, I was immediately excited because I thought, 'This will give me a chance to write about this experience I had,'" Clark said.

A key reason she knows that class stuck with her is because she still has the book, one of the few from college that she saved after multiple decades and many moves. She valued the star charts, too.

Though the poem notes that Clark had forgotten the professor's name, she contacted her alma mater to see if they could figure out who the professor was. She soon learned that the professor was George Wallerstein, who had sadly died in recent years.

But the poem is a testament to his inspiration as a teacher and the importance of a well-rounded education, she said. While she didn't dig deeply into the field, she has a deep appreciation of it because of this teacher.

"It might not be something you spent your life on, but it mattered to you. That’s what liberal education is all about," Clark said. "The magic of space and the wonder of it all is still there because of this class and this professor who was so jazzed about it all."


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