Science Poetry Competition; the winning poem

  • by National Office
  • 9 October, 2013
Science Poetry Competition; the winning poem

Here is Meredi Ortega’s winning poem in the Australian Poetry Science Poetry Competition.

The poem imagines the liner notes that might accompany the golden phonograph records attached to Voyagers 1 and 2 as they leave the Solar System and begin their travels into interstellar space. As Carl Sagan, one of the contributors to the Voyager project once mused, the records will in all probability outlive the human race and even the Earth itself.

The records also feature in popular culture, including in this moving scene between Josh Lyman and Donna Moss in The West Wing.


Meredi Ortega

Liner Notes, Voyager Golden Record


01 blue planet ambassadors               well versed in sifting emptiness
cut star to star from space, humpbacks still appear safety scissored
in need of pasting back
after UN greetings, they sing something along the lines of
.                                       the water’s beautiful, come on in
all twinkle-eyed leviathan

02 this mudpot is spluttering oes            in another clabbery universe
.                       this grey mud is falling in love, taking up flute

03 crickets chirping in space
.               it gets funnier as the centuries pass and there’s the rub
of flight into song, thunder into surf
perhaps what those Californians say is true, about crickets and elephants
.                                  and planets all quavering the same way
all harking back to the big nothing                          or something

04 hyena’s laugh                       bone ravening, raving
.                 we send the devil interstellar
played backwards
.        it is only moon chirr and the lone night song of a prairie mouse

05 first tools           Carl Sagan searched Midtown for stones to record
spalling not rolling
.                 but the city sold knives and its roads were unknappable
.                 he might have known it was too simple

such reduction would require samples             experts, goggles, gloves

06 morse code    di­-dah dah-­di­-dit, stars through hardships, to the stars
sh-­star star-­sh­-ship    through the hard                     to the tsars

07 horse and cart              before horses turned into Saturn V rockets
they were Lucky and Daisy, collared to the endless schlep of things
.              prehensile lipped, crumping hay and snickering at the moon

08 morning star song, Venus rising                      comet dust string
to a lorikeet dawn, ironwood fire cracking, reverberation of the verse
stringybark                   sugarbag                      lines of song

09 queen of the night aria                     accompanied by city lights
anyone can be queen of the night                             star sequins
.                     dagger, drag, delusions of colorature

10 the fifth                  four­-notes-­of                       THE SUN
DNA, cells dividing, double helix uncoiling                 upper strings
ribs, continents drifting, dunes         sequoia, snowflake, rush hour
variations on            wasp, spindled shell, dolphins leaping
Golden Gate Bridge, man with machete
book page, swan sun                          horns floating through space

11 flowing streams      plum-­blossomed ch’in
silk­-stop-­strumming the water’s course
.                              heard and understood only by Chung Tzu­ch’i
and so the world’s last reader of poetry
upon whose death all strings will unriver        or so we like to believe

12 dark was the night           his blade slid on strings, boy eyes burnt
hot coins in his tin                                Texan sky, crab gumbo
this moaning life, everything a sort of guddling
.                         then back into the gyre, like he ever left it
another spinning sun                     forgotten stylus at record’s end

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