Space Invaders


in Archive



Currently there is a lot of space debris — generated by programs like NASA — circling the globe. It’s becoming an increasing problem for satellites and new missions. How can we reduce this debris to ensure that future and current missions will be safe?
— Linwood, Boston, Massachusettes

Your mission, Linwood, if you choose to accept it, is to write an apocalyptic poem about the space debris problem that is so powerful it begins a change. It has to be so good that it inundates the mainstream, warrants translation into all the world languages, and terrifies the globe. All international leaders need to be compelled to work together, with a team of scientists, and solve this problem, and it’s your job to make this problem a priority.

After your poem’s publication (your poem should be so good that it’d be easy to find a publisher), citizens of the world should recite it at will and young teenagers across the globe should dedicate their future careers to solving the space debris problem. Businessmen and women might be thinking of a career change on their daily coffee break after reading your poem. Whenever someone says, “Did you hear of the space debris problem endangering future space missions?” the most common answer should be, “Well, yeah. I read Linwood’s poem, too.”

Get on it, Linwood! Here’s Marc McKee’s “Attack Attack” if you need a little guidance:

The imperfect products of the nation-state
lose their pitching arms, are torn, kicked loose
in fields of tan roil, the compasses dizzy

amid dreams and despairs
of exostellar clockwork. They have faces
and fall urgently. There. Bereft

of cinema. Salts bring them round
briefly: notions and bodies, magnets
for perforations: just think

of each alien real splitting the skin
into a terrible gasp, think how long it takes
surviving fragments to leach through

the bottom of a coffin, the close room
we wear to the twilight of not being
anymore present—One presumes

until weary and afraid. Sees
a wine bottle slip from stunned fingers.
Sees the sudden blitz of monsoon

coming down in the middle of sheer daylight,
volley after volley of wine bottles
shattering on the streets, on the cars,

beside the baby strollers, please, slicking
the marquees. Carpet. Shards. Prayer.
At the stoplight, between an open window

and the Wig-O-Rama on the corner
shakes a pick-up whose bed
is packed with outmoded wheelchairs

like collapsed accordions. Every available surface
grows an eye. And then it is as if
something red begins to speak.


I’m 57 and have returned to college to complete the B.A. in English that I started a million years ago. Basically I have only literature and writing classes remaining and I’m having a blast. The creative writing classes I’ve taken over the last year have shown me what a joy it is to work with writing poetry. I’ve been reading poetry seriously since my earlier college days, but have only started writing poetry since returning to school. How can I cram into the next 30 years all the writing that I never did in the last 30 years?  Do you have any poems that will flame my fire?
— Richard B.

Have you ever had a Red Bull?

Or perhaps, Richard B., you simply need to realize how urgent your situation is — not only your personal situation, but also the political/environmental/social situation that engulfs us all, a period perhaps more in need of good poems than any other time in history. Poet Kathy Engel, coeditor of We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon, agrees that poems can enact change, as they “are made of love and human utterance. Frailty and unfathomable tenacity. They can’t bring back the dead but they keep us alive, and they live because they manifest and extend our selves, our souls, our faith. They enter the world and stay like molecules floating through the air. Made from tough, daring, complex and historic love, everyday life, a desire for truth and the will to remember…”

The world needs poems — good poems! And you, Richard B., have a lot of catching up to do, but fortunately, you have a lot to write about. And really, you have so much more experience with poetry: You have been reading it since many of your colleagues were in the womb. Create a writing schedule for yourself, writing at the same time every day, and in no time you will find yourself with a stunning manuscript, rich with experience and insight.

If Marc McKee’s “Attack Attack” didn’t, as you say, “flame your fire,” then maybe Engel’s poem will. He wrote “Not a Protest Poem/ A Love Song” after the Republican National Convention in 2004, when thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of New York City to protest President George W. Bush’s policies.

Not a Protest Poem/ A Love Song
(After August 29, 2004)

The mothers
standing on the bridge
untie the kerchiefs
from their heads.

Their children paddle the river home in carved canoes
returned whole.

Fernando Suarez de Solar
follows the shadow of his son
his heart hanging out of his chest.
We wade in the water of his flooded eyes.

He tells his story again and again and again
into microphones, steel cameras
into the arms of strangers.

He lost his son
there is no why here
only Fernando walking through crowds,
his words lining his face
the map the marines never drew.

Where can the silence be
when we are called to speak.
Please let me find the stillness
where words begin
and let that stillness speak for me.


Help. I have a problem with people who have a problem with turning 29! Can you help me with a poem to ease my envy, regret, and pangs of nostalgia?
— FF Afield, Brighton, Massachusetts

I’m sure you know that as you age, you are less selfish, egocentric, arrogant, and a whole host of unenviable adjectives. Robert Pinsky’s poem, “History of My Heart,” traces this growth for eight pages, ending:

As the kids at the beach calling from the water Look,
Look at me, to their mothers, but out of itself, into
The listener the way feeling pretty or full of erotic revery

Makes the one who feels seem beautiful to the beholder
Witnessing the idea of the giving of desire—nothing more wanted
Than the little singing notes of wanting—the heart

Yearning further into giving itself into the air, breath
Strained into song emptying the golden bell it comes from,
The pure source poured altogether out and away.

Every moment of bliss or ache that age offers makes your heart grow bigger, stronger, more inclusive, more attune to what really matters. I bet younger people are envious of your big heart, FF Afield, or at least they should be. • 6 January 2008