I’ve been traveling a little for business, so I’ve been on a few airplane flights. Flying always gives me a strange sense of being in-between. It gives me time to think where no one else can reach me: no phone, no internet (at least, internet is avoidable), no email, no appointments, no one dropping in ‘for just a moment’. I finished my MFA in Poetry in large part on airplanes. At that time I was traveling 2-3 days a week, usually between Dallas and New Orleans. So when I get on a plane, I feel like I am getting some poetry time and some “me” time. This is the first in a three-part series discussing the poetry I’ve been reading on my latest trips. First up: Louise Gluck’s Faithful and Virtuous Night: Poems.
Between locales, between groups of people, between images of myself, between worlds. While flying between Atlanta and Albany last week, I recognized this mood again. It’s the same feeling I get while reading Louise Gluck’s newest book, Faithful and Virtuous Night: Poems.
It’s the feeling of being held static, yet conscious that change is possible. Neither here nor there, then nor now, yet dwelling in time. Perhaps I can best describe it as is the feeling of crossing a time warp, feeling out of any place or time yet living in a timeline nonetheless, and expecting that I might emerge into any place or time. I suppose if that is my best description, it needs a little work. Some examples from Gluck’s new work may help.
In “Afterword” Gluck writes: “Surely this was the desert, the dark night.” Followed later in the same poem by: “Now, nothing escapes, nothing enters — // I hadn’t moved. I felt the desert / stretching ahead” … / … “constantly / face-to-face with blankness”.
That sense of emptiness, blankness, also occurs in “Cornwall,” but this time the focus is sound: “It was all behind me, all in the past. // Ahead, as I have said, was silence.”
“Midnight” picks up the repetitive nature of the experience, the idea that one has lived something already: … “we moved into the future / while experiencing perpetual recurrences.”
Then, in “The Sword In The Stone,” the poet expresses the sense of being simultaneously inside and outside one’s own life, living it and questioning it: “All this time I had the giddy sensation / of floating above my life. Far away / that life occurred. But was it / still occurring: that was the question.”
It’s an uncomfortable feeling, yet I like it. There is a sense of possibility, the idea that emptiness, silence, nothingness holds the potential for anything to happen. Anticipation drawn out while consideration of all options can occur. Where there is anticipation and unconstrained potential, there is also the possibility that hope may enter.
The future may be empty and silent from the vantage point of 30,000 feet in the air. However, when the plane lands and one disembarks, life has occurred and continues to occur, and anything might yet happen. Gluck’s Faithful and Virtuous Night: Poems is full of looking back, not wallowing in melancholy but living “recurrences” patiently and thoughtfully while leaving open the potential for the future.