“What is life?” This question was to anchor the fourth iteration of “The Universe in Verse,” set to take place April 18 inside a 3,000-person outdoor amphitheater situated in California’s redwoods. Now, in the wake of being canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will find a home online, where a worldwide group of participants will be invited to consider science and the cosmos through poetry.
Hosted by Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova, the live event will be broadcast from Pioneer Works at 4:30 p.m. April 25, and will include poetry readings from a star-studded list of artists and scientists — including Rosanne Cash, Patti Smith, Rebecca Solnit, V (formerly Eve Ensler), Elizabeth Gilbert, Krista Tippett, Neil Gaiman, Roxane Gay, Alison Bechdel, Natalie Diaz, Kip Thorne, Janna Levin, Paola Prestini with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and many more.
Viewers can watch the livestream on the Brain Pickings Vimeo and the Pioneer Works website. Select excerpts from the event will be dispersed over time on the Brain Pickings website, though the organizers note that the livestream in its entirety will not be viewable after the gathering. While the event is free to stream, those who wish to make donations are encouraged to do so directly to Pioneer Works, which is currently closed to the public.
“Every golden human thread weaving this global lifeline is donating their time and talent (and oh how much time this has taken!), diverting from their own work and livelihood, to offer this generous gift to the world,” Popova said in an announcement. “We’ve made this just because it feels important that it exist, that it serve some measure of consolation by calibration of perspective, perhaps even some joy.”
In a note on the Pioneer Works website, Popova speaks about the move to a digital space in terms of expansion.
“The ‘2020 Universe in Verse’ is an adaptation, an experiment, a Promethean campfire for the collective imagination,” she writes, continuing, “taking a virtual leap to serve what it has always aspired to serve — a broadening of perspective: cosmic, creaturely, temporal, scientific, humanistic — all the more vital as we find the aperture of our attention and anxiety so contracted by the acute suffering of this shared present.”
The livestream will also include a special performance of composer Paola Prestini’s “Thrush Song,” based on Rachel Carson’s revolutionary text “Silent Spring.” The piece will be sung by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City in a virtual format, weaving together individual performances from the children’s home to create a tapestry of sound.
“It is incredible to be able to give life to Carson’s legacy with [Popova’s] words and the power of the Young People’s Chorus,” Prestini said. “The moment of unity we shared in creating this, albeit in our separate homes and spaces, served as a beautiful reminder of how this is impacting our youth, and how they are seeing and feeling this moment in time, and this moment of stasis and the impact it’s had on our environment. It’s a brave new world and making this tribute with them and for ‘The Universe in Verse’ was genuinely a joy.”
In addition to this spring’s “The Universe in Verse,” Popova was scheduled to celebrate Carson’s legacy from the steps of the New York Public Library in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
More information about the virtual edition of “The Universe in Verse” can be found here.