It begins with a poem: “When I see the first / New moon, faint in the twilight, / I think of the moth eyebrows / Of a girl I saw only once.”
That brief poem by Ōtomo no Yakamochi is one of many, many poems that will be traveling to the moon this year by way of a special lunar lander, according to Jim Daniels.
Daniels, a poet, educator and the Week Six poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, recently retired from his position at Carnegie Mellon University, where he became involved in the Moon Arts Project.
“They’re sending the rover up to the moon,” he said. “I’m the moon poetry consultant, so my job was to find poems about the moon to send to the moon. All the arts are represented in this very tiny — they’re called moon museums. The engineering is incredible.”
At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2 on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, Daniels will give his Chautauqua Literary Arts Brown Bag lecture, “Sending Poetry to the Moon: The Moon Arts Project.”
“I’m going to talk about the whole project of sending poetry to the moon,” he said. “Then, I’ll read some of the poems I got to send to the moon, and explain why I picked them.”
Daniels said that for him, it’s fascinating to see the way people have written about the moon throughout human history.
“Historically, the moon has always been there,” he said. “But we as people on Earth have changed over the years. The moon has been like a mirror, in terms of reflecting how people on Earth feel.”
Daniels is particularly excited about the connections between his project and the week’s larger theme, “After Dark: The World of Nighttime.”
“There’s a lot of spiritual, magical stuff associated with the moon,” he said. “Of course, there’s the usual cliches, but there’s also a kind of mystery about it. I think even when we landed on the moon, the mystery didn’t go away.”
A poem like Yakamochi’s “brings in the idea of romance, brings in the idea of mystery, brings in the idea of the phases of the moon,” Daniels said.
“In a four-line poem like that one, what’s astonishing is the amount of energy in it and the surprise of the image presented in it,” he said. “As writers, we sit in our little rooms all the time. It was so nice to be part of a community with this crazy idea in mind. It was very inspiring.”