Monday, August 17, 2009

A flightless poem


David Tucker's poem "No Flights Until Morning" is an attempt to stuff as much pathos into as cramped space as possible; the effect is not unlike the weary undergraduate who's procrastinated on their paper too long and now writes fast and feverishly hoping the fear of failure might spark some late blooming inspiration. The poem, mind you is, too small setting where there is no convenient dynamic to move quicken the pace or make the more extreme poetic applications seem less glaring. This poem is a matter of trying to fit a size ten foot into a size seven shoe, and reading it was nothing less than watching the pained waddle of a customer denying the shortcomings of their high-heeled foot torture. There are choice details, yes, if one is inclined to excuse snap shot description of unhappy people in crowded places as examples of the author's generous heart.

The runways were covered by late afternoon,
nothing moved out there but the occasional noble

snow plow carrying on with a yellow grimace,
the big jets were barely visible like whale herds

sleeping off the blast. The concourses, so frantic
a few hours ago, were almost still, a few meanderers chatted on their cell phones and looked at watches.


There is nothing in these "humanizing" images that novelists John Cheever or John Updike haven't given us with more grace, sympathy, and with sense that the observed imperfections were leading to some greater effect.Rhythm and musicality are especially strong in these prose writers as they achieve a graceful ribbon of circumstance and happenstance which brings character tic, facial expressions, commercial products into a focus as being telling elements of a whole world and gestalt from which a sadness or great comedy is about to unfold. In Cheever's masterful "Wapshot Chronicle" and "Wapshot Schandal" and Updike's wonderful quartet of "Rabbit" novels the wealth of details forms a world, a fictional space where tangible emotion and poetic effects are achieved through equal amounts of economy and a tuned ear.

Tucker has the eye but not the ear, and like his glacially paced reading --did anyone else find themselves leaning into their speakers only to find themselves about to tip over anticipating his next laggardly utterance?-- and his poem turns into a drone. He had a scene that was worth a poem, but rather than find where the poem was among all those strange , private interactions he may or may not have seen from the corner of his eye, rather than select particular evocative scenes and link them somehow with some small, hidden yet quietly profound fact within themselves, he tries to contain the entire airport , and creates dead weight. We get the typical effect of someone who has written themselves into a corner and is forced to over reach to distinguish himself from the other scenes of nameless being:


II stayed quiet and thought of you;
checked my passport, read my ticket again, then again
like a spy with only a name to get me out,
a thousand miles from my life.


I find it incredible that in a moment when he is supposedly feeling vulnerable and less than dynamic because of his separation from his beloved "you" that he addresses his situation as analogous to that of a spy. Tucker here is valorizing his current despair and ennui and makes himself seem heroic because others are accepting and playing video games or raging at bemused counter help, he has the deeper wound of true loneliness. The poet as serial sufferer is loosed upon us, and you wonder what Tucker was going for other than to prove that he could out-mope a room full of the earnestly self-conscious.