The Marginalian
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THE UNIVERSE IN VERSE (APRIL 7, 2024)

Consider the dazzling odds: Out of the billions upon billions of possible combinations, a planet whose sole satellite is exactly 400 times smaller than its star and exactly 400 times closer, so that each time it passes between the two, it covers the face of the star perfectly, thrusting the planet into midday night, into something surreal and sublime.

Randomness seems too small a word for the staggering improbability that is a total solar eclipse. We may call it wonder. We may call it mystery. We may just fall silent before its brutal beauty, the way it presses consciousness against the gun barrel of time. Totality transported Virginia Woolf to “the birth of the world.” Annie Dillard saw in its almost unbearable strangeness a lens on “our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here.” Maria Mitchell, traveling fifteen hundred miles in her Quaker gown to lead an eclipse expedition of the world’s first women astronomers, was stunned by the “inky blackness” and the flowerlike prominences around the Sun’s disc and the silver streamers its corona sent “millions of miles into space” — tendrils of the majesty and mystery of nature, touching for a blink of time the depths of human nature with raw transcendence.

Diagram of a solar eclipse from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript. (New York Public Library Digital Collections.)

On the eve of the 2024 total solar eclipse — the last in North America for twenty years, and the first to sweep so vast a portion of the continent since Maria Mitchell’s day — we will gather under the starlit skies of Austin’s Waterloo Greenway to reverence Earth’s most sublime communion with the cosmos.

Come savor the science of the Sun and the Moon, of gravity and relativity; the discoveries of Newton, Kepler, and Galileo; the stories of the historic eclipse expedition that catapulted Einstein into celebrity and of the forgotten woman who published the first popular science book on eclipses while editing Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

Illustrating the science and the stories will be poems old and new, from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to Hannah Emerson and Rita Dove, performed by a constellation of inspired and inspiring minds, including authors Rebecca Solnit, Roxane Gay, and James Gleick, On Being creator Krista Tippett, Radiolab creator Jad Abumrad, multidisciplinary artist Helga Davis, artist and Design Matters creator Debbie Millman, actor Natascha McElhone, cosmologist and saxophonist Stephon Alexander, poets Marie Howe and Ellen Bass, and musicians Joan as Police Woman and David Byrne.

Crowning the evening will be a special music surprise.

DATE: April 7, 2024
TIME: doors 5PM, show 6PM-9PM
LOCATION: Waterloo Greenway, Austin

All proceeds benefit a new Universe in Verse fund at The Academy of American Poets, supporting poets working with the materials of science. Tickets are available on a pay-what-you-can honor system.

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Find highlights from previous seasons here.

Special thanks to the Simons Foundation for offsetting some of the immense production cost of this many-hearted labor of love. (For other wondrous eclipse celebrations, explore their continent-wide In the Path of Totality initiative.)

BP

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