Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions


Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night


Table of Contents


  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You


Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions

Break on Through to the Other Side; or T+3, T+2, T+1, T=0, T-1, T-2, T-3, . . . T-2006 AD; or The Big Crunch as Big Bang in Reverse; or Neo Takes the Red Pill of Negative Eternity

Recently, some physicists have provided a mathematical model that suggests there was a time before the Big Bang, which seems contrary to reason, as how could time exist in a state of no space or motion? Hmm. But by staring through the lenses of Loop Quantum Gravity (what’s that? Quantum Gravity is a model physicists use to try & combine the predictions & theories of General Relativity (gravity) with the predictions & theories quantum physics (the sub-atomic world where gravity doesn’t seem to apply), & Loop Quantum Gravity, as far as can tell, is similar to Quantum Gravity but with more subtleties, or specifics).

According to the calculations of Tomasz Pawlowski & Parmpreet Singh, there is another universe on a timeline preceding the Big Bang, & this universe is similar to ours.

But what is before the Big Bang? Is a god gathering her paints, paint brushes, a canvas, & a palette? Is that universe a mirror image of ours, but maybe where the laws of thermodynamics are in reverse – things move towards order (the broken coffee mug on the floor flies up on to the table & becomes a solid mug holding coffee, which gets hotter as time progresses, or regresses as the case may be)? Or is it just part of the flux/breathing of the universe – expand, contract, expand, contract, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva? Is there a white rabbit running around, singing “I’m early, I’m early, I’m early, for an unimportant date”? What, I ask, is on the other side?

Go explore. Go down the hole. Take Morpheus’s red pill & see how far the rabbit hole goes, I mean, how far the other universe goes.

For more information, google: Probing Question: What Happened Before the Big Bang?

“Remember . . . all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.”


Before the Beginning of Years; or Ylem – the Cointreau of a Cosmospolitan

We are going to write a poem about the beginning of it all, or shortly thereafter. This assignment is inspired by the cover picture of the wonderful book: Genesis of the Big Bang (Oxford University Press, 2001) by Ralph Alpher & Robert Herman.

Photomantage of R. A. Alpher, G. Gamow, and R. Herman, 1949

In the picture: Robert Herman (holding a “wired programming plugboard for an IBM CPC computer at IBM’s Watson Laboratory)” is left, Ralph Alpher is right, and George Gamow is in the middle (he’s not the bottle of Cointreau). Alpher took the photo of Herman holding a wired programming plugboard for an IBM CPC computer at IBM’s Watson Laboratory. The photo of Alpher was taken by Newsweek, but never used. Gamow’s photo came froma security badge at the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University. “Photomantage of R. A. Alpher, G. Gamow, and R. Herman, 1949” from Genesis of the Big Bang, copyright 2001. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

The poem you will compose will thus incorporate Ylem & Cointreau. (“Ylem” is pronounced: ī ’ lum). Its definition is below:

Ylem: [n] (cosmology) the original matter that (according to the big bang theory) existed before the formation of the chemical elements.

  • The word used by George Gamow & his collaborators for the primordial material of the Big Bang. In most of his work, Gamow assumed that the ylem consisted entirely of neutrons. In inflationary cosmology, the role of the ylem is played by the false vacuum.
  • Primordial state of matter – neutrons & their decay products (protons & electrons) – before the Big Bang. The term was taken from Aristotle & used for the α-β-γ (Alpher-Bethe-Gamow) theory.
  • This view of an expanding universe seemed to fit beautifully with the concepts envisaged by the Russian physicist Alexander Friedman & G. Lemaitre (a Belgian Jesuit priest) around 1920 & later by George Gamow, where at the beginning of time, the Universe began its existence as an extremely hot & dense concentration of matter. Gamow named the substance ylem from Aristotle’s basic stuff from which all matter was derived. It would later become known as the primordial nuclear soup.
  • Etymology: Middle English, universal matter, from Old French ilem, from Medieval Latin hylem [where the y is long], accusative of hylē [where the y is long], matter from Greek hulē.

There will also be a structure to this poem. The first line of the poem will be one syllable. Each line thereafter will slowly grow in length but not exceed twelve syllables. If you take a liking to Alan Guth’s “inflationary model” of the standard Big Bang model, then your second or third line should have a big jump in its number of syllables, but should not exceed nine syllables.

The last line of the poem has three possible endings.

  1. Should you think the universe will grow to a certain size & then shrink into the Big Crunch, then the last line of the poem must be one syllable.
  2. Should you think the universe will grow indefinitely & without end, then the last line of the poem must be the longest line of the poem.
  3. Should you think the universe will grow to a certain size & not grow anymore, then the last line should be as long as the longest line in the poem, but the last line cannot by itself be the longest.

Also, if you can get a keyboard into the poem, or Aristotle, or alpha, beta, & gamma, then kick ass!

By the way, the first title of this assignment was taken from the first line of a “Chorus” in Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Atalanta in Calydon,” which can be found in this new & best edition of selected Swinburne poems: Swinburne: The Major Poems and Selected Prose, eds. Jerome McGann & Charles L. Sligh. (Yale University Press, 2004).


Irony & the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, or the Cat’s Revenge

Erwin Schrödinger tried to help his students & us understand the uncertainty principle through a model of a cat in a box, a vial of poison, a hammer, & a random element that may or may not trigger the hammer to break the vial & kill the cat in the box. As observers who cannot see into the box, the observers can never know if the element has triggered the hammer & thus led to the cat’s demise. As a result, & in relation to the uncertainty principle, the cat is either dead or alive, or both . . . or not even in the box!

With that in mind, let us envision Erwin Schrödinger’s funeral. Let us envision him inside the casket & whether his casket was left open or closed at the viewings & such.


Quarks & Sestinas

For Greg Glazner

It’s actually kinda silly, but to me it seems natural, though I imagine quite difficult.

There are six types of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, strange, & charm. Those quarks, especially, two of them, help to make up a lot of matter in this universe (& some others, I suppose). As these quarks are constructs, & because sestinas are constructed upon six words, the connection seems obvious to me & a worthy challenge. “Up,” “down,” “top,” “bottom,” “strange,” & “charm” will be the end words for a sestina.

The idea comes from this sentence: “Well, now there are six quarks, and they bear the names up, down, top, bottom, strange, and charm, end words to some quantum sestina” (M. L. Williams, “Knowers and Makers,” The Measured Word: On Poetry and Science.  ed. Kurt Brown. University of Georgia P, 2001. P 17). It is a wonderful book, & I highly recommended it.


The Other Evolution; or The Man with Two Hearts: The Continuing Adventures of Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr – a New Movie for Steve Martin; or Lub Lub Dub Dub

It occurred to me evolution should have given us an extra heart, a back up heart, a just-in-case-one-heart-stops-working heart. Then it occurred to me to wonder what it would be like to have two hearts. How would symbolism, especially toward love, change? How would love change? How would humanity change? How would music change?

Your assignment is to create a new world of humans, where each human has two hearts. You are to explore love, music, humanity, & everything else the imagination can discover in regards to that world. This should surely produce many poems, or an epic poem.

Explore form, too. Should you use quatrains? Should you use couplets? If rhyming, how would rhyme schemes change with two hearts? How would metrics change? Should your lines have two iambs each? Will the new heart beats affect the way the line breathes? etc. etc. etc.

Go forth! Love twice as much!!

Me & My Clone, or How to Raise Myself My Way

This one was inspired by D.A. Feinfeld’s poem “Cloning,” which appears in Rodin’s Eyes (Fithian Press, 2004).

The idea of this assignment is to pretend that you have cloned yourself, that you or your wife give birth to the clone, & that you have to raise your clone from its birth into childhood & beyond.

The Hands of Time; Like Grains of Sand in an Hour Glass; or Redefining Time

So you have just created new constellations (which a few people still use to measure time). Now our assignment is to make new metaphors of how we measure time, or define the movement of time.

That is, hourglasses are hardly used anymore, clocks with minute hands & hour hands & second hands are starting to become extinct. The “tick tock tick tock” of a clock is becoming an echo of previous centuries. And the “tick tick tick” of a stop watch or a time-bomb is also disappearing. (After the time units wind down to 0:00.00, only the bomb’s ka-boom remains as affirmation that time did indeed move & was heard.)

The clocks that are starting to gain dominance are silent in their LED & digital displays. Thus, we need new metaphors of how we measure & see time in our new clock era.

One idea for this – how will the heart beat be heard? How will it be measured without a ticking clock? Or rather, to what will the heart beat be compared to? Has the heart, as a result of silenced clocks, also grown silent?

Is the precision of a Swiss watch now in the silence & invisibility of an atomic clock? . . .

Oh, the metaphors seem as endless as my monthly bills!

Make haste. Go make time!


Getting to Know Our Solar System

I am currently (3-28-04 at 10:24 p.m. PST) listening to Gustav Holst’s The Planets (as done by John Eliot Gardiner & the Philharmonia Orchestra), & it is comprised of seven pieces/movements. Each piece is like the personality of each planet, & with their mythic undertones. (There are no movements for Earth nor for Pluto.)

And now that we recently discovered a tenth planet in our solar system (the discovery was made by Dr. Michael Brown, associate professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena), or rather the “discovery of the most distant object ever detected orbiting the Sun,” it seems appropriate that we try to write a poem for each planet. (A neat little chap book could be had). Oh, the new object has been named Sedna after the Inuit goddess of the ocean.

Some more information to help you with the new planet: The body is believed to be about 1,250 miles across, but may even be larger than the furthest known planet, Pluto, which is 1,406 miles across & was discovered in 1930.

Scientists believe it is 6.2 billion miles from Earth in a region of space known as the Kuiper Belt, which contains hundreds of other known bodies.

Whether the new discovery can actually be called a planet is likely to be debated by astro-physicists for months or even years to come.

(9-1-06 addendum): Well, the debate is over. Neither Sedna nor Pluto are considered planets, but don’t let that stop you from doing this assignment. Also, Holst must have been a visionary genius to realize Pluto is not a planet.


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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

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