Love, Oppy: The Crossroads Between Poetry and Science

Our piece for this week is Love, Oppy by Allison Kaefring, which is a poem from Periphery 57. This piece can be found both under the Story of the Week tab and in Periphery’s online archives.

Poetry and science are about as different as two disciplines can be.  Whereas science focuses on the “what” and “how” of life, poetry is more interested in the “why.” Additionally, while scientific authors typically use direct, matter-of-fact language, poets often play with more artistic, figurative language. As such, it might seem as though there is very little– if any–overlap between the two fields. However, some works manage to operate in the crossroads between the two disciplines, and Love, Oppy, is one of them.

 Love, Oppy, tells the story of the Opportunity rover’s final days on Mars.  More specifically, this poem goes beyond the statistics of the Opportunity’s situation and adds depth, meaning, and—as the title suggests—love to the robot’s story. The piece uses several tools to accomplish this, the most effective of which is personifying Opportunity and making the robot the narrator of its own story.

Personification, or the practice of giving human qualities to non-human items and organisms, is an extremely popular literary tool that has been used in countless works. Much of personification’s appeal comes from the fact that it can make the unknown, knowable, and the emotionless, emotional. In this instance, it allows Opportunity—a piece of machinery that few of us have had the chance to know and even fewer of us have had the reason to love—to tell its own death story. By doing so, it generates sympathy within us for a little robot that “hasn’t seen a person in a decade and a half.” This sympathy, in turn, inspires us to learn more about Opportunity, other machines like it, and the programs that fund such creations.

Poems such as Love, Oppy, therefore, demonstrate the heart that lies behind scientific discovery and allow us to become more emotionally connected with the field. However, the relationship between poetry and science is far from one-sided; science also brings something to the mix. On the most basic level, it provides poets with new and interesting topics to write about—after all, no one would have been able to tell the story of Oppy if NASA didn’t exist! On a deeper level, science also provides poets with new, more specific words that they can use to describe the world around them. And because poetry relies heavily on specificity and diction, science thus plays a key role in the expansion and improvement of poetry.                

Overall, poetry and science are not quite as disparate as you think—and neither are the rest of life’s fields of study. Therefore, as you continue your work in your discipline of choice, I urge you to look for the connections that tie it to the world at large. Who knows what you might find?

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