Poetry and astronomy often travel together in the political sphere, from Milton's meeting with Galileo under house arrest to NASA's practice of launching poems into space. Anchored in the post-war period but drawing on a long history of poetry and science, Lyric Poetry and Space Exploration from Einstein to the Present charts the surprising connection between poetry and extra-terrestrial space. In an era defined by the vast scales of globalization, environmental disaster, and space travel, poets bring the small scales of lyric intimacy to bear on cosmic immensity.
While outer space might seem the domain of more popular genres, lyric poetry has ancient and enduring associations with cosmic inquiry that have made it central to post-war space culture. As the Cold War played out in space, American institutions and media - from NASA to Star Trek - enlisted poetry to present space exploration as a peaceful mission on behalf of humankind. Meanwhile, poets from across the globe have turned to the cosmos to contest American imperialism, challenging conventional ideas about lyric poetry in the process.
Poets including Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Agha Shahid Ali, and Tracy K. Smith invoke the extra-terrestrial to interrogate national histories alongside their craft. Dazzled by the aesthetics of astronomy but wary of its imperial uses, poets employ astronomical figures and methods to imagine how we might care for both ourselves and others on a shared planet.