"Sometimes it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," quips German. "We get that experience every six months whether we want to or not."

One visitor was Lynne Cox, a writer and polar swimmer who has traversed, among other places, the Northwest Passage, the Bering Strait and Antarctica's Neko Harbour. Two years ago, Cox, who was working on a book about Shackleton, contacted Smith to see if there was any way she could get to the South Pole. There wasn't, but the two remained friendly. Smith told her about his poetry, and last year Cox introduced him to K.A. Colorado.

Colorado began as a snow sculptor 25 years ago. In the late 1990s he traveled to Antarctica with a group of Argentine researchers. Since then, most of his work has been about climate and cold. He considers his most important work his ice-core sculptures.

Ron Smith.
Ron Smith.
An aerial view of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
National Science Foundation
An aerial view of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Ice cores are long, thin samples of ice sheets. Like tree trunks, they have rings that scientists can read to determine the ice's geographical history. Colorado's cores are made of resin or glass, with cut-up pieces of scientific papers or books about Antarctica and climate change embedded in the center. The sculptures themselves range from blue-green to pale yellow, and the outer layer is clear enough to read the words inside.

"Ron's experience in Antarctica mirrors what I do," Colorado explains. "It's the experience of dealing with deep cold.

"My personal feeling," he continues, "is that deep cold is essential to our biological makeup. Most people gravitate toward warmth, but deep cold was instrumental in developing the ideas of habitat and storing food."

Smith flew to Portland last March to meet Colorado. He describes their collaboration in almost romantic terms: "Our hearts were aligned."

"It's a fantastic interplay between two artists," Cox says of Polar Dialogue. "I've never seen anything like this before. It's really interesting. They're trying very hard to explain this other world to people who have never been there and will never get there."

a wilderness-weir
amassed in light—
unsullied science of
to beacon cosmos;
its chalice before me,
beauty's chaste
so beyond
so benumbed
so before

To bring the show to St. Louis, Smith figures he and Colorado will need about $10,000 to cover the cost of transporting the sculptures and renting studio and display space. He's begun applying for grants.

"St. Louis is a good venue for doing something very active, performance-wise," he says. "There's a huge artistic and academic community in a small area."

Smith isn't sure whether he'll ever return to Antarctica.

"Artistically, there are a number of projects it would be interesting for me to work on," he says. "Ken Colorado is getting into more artistic symbolism of climate change and is talking about taking an ice core with my poetry embedded in it and planting it in Mount Erebus." Erebus is one of Antarctica's two volcanoes. Another friend, St. Louis photographer Michael Eastman, has been talking about publishing a book of Antarctica photos accompanied by Smith's poems.

For the past several months Smith has been campaigning to rename all the airway reporting points between Christchurch, New Zealand, and McMurdo after Roald Amundsen's sled dogs, a salute to Antarctic history. The name change will become official in June, but no one will fly the route until late August when the first members of Operation Deep Freeze report for duty. Smith isn't sure whether he'll be invited on that flight.

"Going to Antarctica is not easy," he says. "You have to get the permission of the National Science Foundation. I don't want to go through the Air Force. I want to go as an artist not a military guy.

"But do I feel I have to go?" he continues. "No. A poet from New Zealand, Bill Manhire, went down there as a special envoy. He was there for a few days, enough to have things to write about. Someone asked him if he wanted to go back. He said no, because it was so amazing he didn't want to dilute it by taking more trips. He wanted to keep the awe-inspiring element. I understand why he would want to keep that sacrosanct in himself."

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