The Marginalian Newsletter


 Each spring since 2017, I have been pouring my whole heart and hundreds of hours into a labor-of-love side project celebrating in a different form two things at the core of The Marginalian — two things that entwine in the helix of our flourishing as human beings: the poetic imagination and the hunger to know reality. Every single person involved in this colossal endeavor is donating their time and talent, and all proceeds from the tickets benefit the stewardship of our irreplaceable planet as we go on searching for other worlds.

The Universe in Verse 2022: What Is Life? (April 16, Santa Cruz, CA)

To be human is to live suspended between the scale of gluons and the scale of galaxies, yearning to fathom our place in the universe. That we exist at all — on this uncommon rocky world, just the right distance from its common star, adrift in a galaxy amid hundreds of billions of galaxies, each sparkling with hundreds of billions of stars, each orbited by numberless possible worlds — is already miracle enough. A bright gift of chance amid the cold dark sublime of pure spacetime. A triumphal something against the staggering cosmic odds of nothingness.

Stationed here on this one and only home planet, we have opposed our thumbs to build microscopes and telescopes, pressing our curiosity against the eyepiece, bending our complex consciousness around what we see, longing to peer a little more deeply into the mystery of life with the mystery of us.

For the fifth annual (embodied!) Universe in Verse — a charitable celebration of science and nature, winged with poetry and music — I have joined forces with my astronomer friend and threetime alumna of The Universe in Verse Natalie Batalha (who led NASA’s Kepler and its triumphant discovery of more than 4,000 potential cradles for life beyond Earth) to explore this longing through a kaleidoscope of vantage points.

In a majestic outdoor amphitheater built into a former quarry in the redwoods, we gather to celebrate the marvel and mystery of life, from the creaturely to the cosmic, with stories from the history of science and our search for truth, illustrated with poems spanning centuries of human thought and feeling — poems about entropy and evolution, about trees and mushrooms, about consciousness and dark matter, about the birth of flowers and the death of stars — composed by a constellation of extraordinary humans, from Emily Dickinson to Gwendolyn Brooks, and performed by a constellation of extraordinary humans: pioneering astronomers Jill Tarter and Natalie Batalha, writers Rebecca Solnit and Roxane Gay, musicians Zoë Keating and Joan As Police Woman, artist and Design Matters creator Debbie Millman, artist and DrawTogether creator Wendy MacNaughton, poet Diane Ackerman, cosmologist and jazz saxophonist Stephon Alexander, cognitive scientist, writer, and Dog Cognition Lab director Alexandra Horowitz, physicist and writer Alan Lightman, and On Being creator Krista Tippett (my collaborator in the Universe in Verse animated interlude season).

To magnify the magic, there will be stargazing and music — those twin hallmarks of our species — and some thrilling surprises (that may or may not involve David Byrne and Amanda Palmer).

To make The Universe in Verse maximally open to all, tickets are available on a pay-what-you-can basis at three levels. Please contribute the maximum you are able, knowing that it would make the experience possible for someone else of humbler means, knowing too that all proceeds from the show are split halfway between a new scholarship at UCSC, honoring the life and legacy of astronomer and search-for-life pioneer Frank Drake, and The Nature Conservancy, whose tireless work stewards and protects the broadest community of life across our own irreplaceable world.

DATE: April 16, 2022TIME: doors 6PM, show 7PM-9:30PM (proof of vaccination required)LOCATION: Quarry Amphitheater (1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA 95064)

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You can see highlights from the previous years here.