Yes, We Need a Poet Laureate

We need poetry in our lives. It is not a luxury. It is not only for an elite. And it does something that no other art form can do, even if one would be foolish to attempt to describe in a blog just exactly what that is. Trust us: we need it, and now that the most magical W.S. Merwin has been appointed our new Poet Laureate, we can rest assured (or, hope?) that new poems will come from him which will address the way we live now, the mistakes we are making, and the possible paths to change, renewal, peace.

The Times lauded the announcement, and told us a bit about who Merwin is, why he is relevant in literary history, how he was anointed early by W.H. Auden, etc. We know he stood up to the Vietnam War and also that he’s heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. From this can we assume that he has strong thoughts on our current foreign policy, and that perhaps those thoughts will be expressed, and published? We hope so. He lives in Hawaii; did this have something to do with the choice?

You can read Merwin’s poetry here; you can hear him read his own work here. One of the finest pieces of Merwiniana is his interview with The Paris Review, accessible here. An excerpt reads:


Do you see a connection between poetry and prayer?


I guess the simple answer is yes, if only because I think of poetry as an attempt to use language as completely as possible. And if you want to do that, obviously you’re not concerned with language as decoration, or language as amusement, although you certainly want language to be pleasurable. Pleasure is part of the completeness. I think of poetry as having to do with the completeness of life, and the completeness of relation with one’s experience, completing one’s experience, articulating it, making sense of it.


How about the influence of Zen in your work?


When you talk about prayer in Judeo-Christian terms, prayer is usually construed as a kind of dualistic act. You’re praying to somebody else for something. Prayer in the Western sense is usually construed as making a connection. I don’t think that connection has to be made; it’s already there. Poetry probably has to do with the recognizing of that connection, rather than trying to create something that isn’t there.

Whether or not you believe poetry to be close to prayer (whether or not you pray or know poets), this is a good time to read Merwin. Perhaps he will inspire other younger writers to write poems. What is left to lose? Poet Laureates don’t serve for long (less than a school year), and their “duties” are loosely assigned. Yet the existence of the position is meaningful in and of itself; there is no Novelist Laureate, after all.

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
Keep reading Show less

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less