Thursday, 31 July 2014

P K Page's 'This Heavy Craft': "The Dream of Flight Persists"

Wings of the fallen by Garrette. Used under Creative Commons license

It can be difficult to know what to say about joy in the writer's vocation. The portrait is so often of the artist as tortured, and this is especially so in the case of poets, who are known to have particularly high levels of mental illness. (This phenomenon has been called the 'Sylvia Plath effect'.) Even where writers aren't tortured, there are so many jokes about how a writer will do anything to avoid writing that one really starts to wonder.


I remember P K Page reading 'This Heavy Craft' at the one reading of hers I was able to attend years ago in Victoria. Her clear voice made everything beautiful, not that this poem needed to become more beautiful. It is a curiously optimistic vision of a symbolic Icarus who survived the fall, even though "the wax has melted". The poet-as-Icarus pays tribute to the "bird" in her innermost self, her deepest imagination, who "while I'm asleep/unfolds its phantom wings/and practices". Despite the self-deprecating heaviness of the poem's title, and the description of the bird's wings as "phantom", this is optimism indeed. The bird also reminded me of the golden birds of Yeat's 'Sailing to Byzantium' and 'Byzantium', part of the legacy of art which outlasts human impermanence.

While not a wholehearted fan of shape poems, I also couldn't help noticing and enjoying the fact that 'This Heavy Craft' appears on the page in the shape of a feathered wing.

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