Writing of a piece of poetry rarely makes it to the news – unless this piece of poetry is going to another planet. To step on Martian soil has been a collective dream of mankind for quite a long time. However, getting there physically being still impossible, people look for new ways of establishing their presence on the Red planet vicariously – this time, via the medium of poetry.
The University of Colorado Boulder has sponsored a contest called ‘Going to Mars with Maven’ – the participants were asked to write a haiku dedicated to Mars or, specifically, to the spacecraft MAVEN that will be launched to Mars this November. The haiku by the winners, the recipients of any kind of special recognition as well as those which received more than two votes will be recorded on a DVD which, eventually, will be attached to the MAVEN orbiter to accompany it in its journey to the Red planet.
Haiku is a traditional Japanese verse form, defined mostly by its peculiar structure. It is usually described as consisting of 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively; it is, however, not exactly true. Haiku hails from Japan, a culture with its own specific writing, poetic and linguistic conventions, and as a result it can only vaguely be transferred into other languages. Originally it consists of 17 on (or sounds – it is the way phonetic units are counted in Japanese, they do not exactly correspond to syllables) separated in three phrases. It is also generally characterized by juxtaposition of two images or ideas that are in reality quite distant from each other. Although nowadays haikus are mostly determined by their form, not the content, some authors still try to follow both aspects of this verse type as closely as possible.
So, who turned out to be the winner of this contest? It is one Benedict Smith from the United Kingdom, who won the most votes from more than twelve-thousand other participants. He wrote a rather cynical message: “It’s funny, they named / Mars after the God of War / Have a look at Earth”. The runner-up, Greg Pruett from Idaho, was more optimistic: “Distant red planet / the dreams of Earth beings flow / we will someday roam”.
The goal of the contest is quite clear – to make it to the news and add to the popularization of science and the study of Mars among the people who are normally very far from these topics. And, of course, to get into the history books that will be written in future – after all, as it turns out, human poetry will get to the Red planet much earlier than humans themselves.