Thursday, July 31, 2008

John Hodgen on "Poem to Be Read at 30,000 Feet"

The genesis for “Poem to Be Read at 30,000 Feet” came as I was quite literally aboard a plane approaching Logan Airport over the water at night. I write a lot of poems during flights. There’s something about being loosed and lifted like that that frees up the capacity to drift and dream a poem into being. I was literally reading a poetry journal (let’s say the Beloit Poetry Journal) in the dim light of a late night flight, and suddenly had one of those anxious moments wondering, if perhaps something might go wrong and the plane might crash. We all go there. We all find ways to manage that fear. Sometimes as writers though, it’s worthwhile to let the fear play out into the imagination, to receive even the gift of fear that way. I found myself looking around at the passengers, drawing mini-portraits of any and all of us in those unguarded moments that could be our last, all of us trusting our virtual horizons, all of us headed for our permanent fatal error. We all seemed so innocent, so trusting, so vulnerable in that moment. And so rich in the luxury of our lives. I wanted some sense of mythology, the Golden Fleece, to show that, and to evoke the myth we all live by, that we will somehow live forever.

I originally found rhymes very present, tried to build the poem that way, that “Argo” and “ergo,” “light” and “night,” but then again the poem seemed to argue for a randomness, a fragmented internal rhyme, as if to show the interior lives and the fragile exterior. So there is rhyme hidden within, the rhyme and reason of our lives, perhaps, but a poem about sudden impact seemed to speak against any neatness, so the end rhymes slipped away. The poem took over. And that’s when I realized it was my moment, my poem too, and that I had to include myself in that scene. I realized it wouldn’t have been an entirely bad thing to go like that, holding a poem up in the light close to my face.

And then came the real gift. The act of holding up a poem in a journal is not unlike the way you hold with both hands the face of the one you love, the way you read into that face, that bright page of the story of your life. I thought suddenly of the traditional Dear Reader, the tenderness of that, and realized our imagined reader is pretty much someone we could love as well. And I thought of the ones we love, how we don’t always get to tell them we were thinking of them right at the very end. But poems can do that. That’s what poems are for. Finally, I wanted the reader to end up in that same moment, holding a poem in their hands and seeing the life in the poem, the face of what a poem tries to be. Love, what else? That gift.