High Wire Act: Poems in Flight at the Swindon Festival of Poetry

2 Oct

Three woman poets – Claire Dyer, Susan Utting and Lesley Saunders – today gave a collaborative reading High Wire Act: Poems of Flight, a project of coming together over mutual respect of each others’ work. Sharing their work spread out on a table, they realised they had a common theme of birds and escape.

Their work ranged from the descriptive to the metaphorical, meanings deep within the verse or a story easily grasped; all beautifully read. About the first moon landing, love, the life balancing act performed by women, inspired by art, deceased mothers and the sadness of a stuffed bird. (One beleaguered male audience member commented, ‘With three woman poets I was worried it would be yucky, it wasn’t’. Perhaps he was expecting Jo Brand-style pieces about periods?)

Inspired by Lesley Saunders’ poem, A Sheep, a Duck and a Cockerel, I thought I’d pen my own piece. Lesley’s poem is about the development of flight, from those first animals who – in test dummy fashion – took to the sky in a balloon, to the casual, routine journey of flight today.

I really liked the line: ‘looking is always an act of desire.’

Lesley describes Kittenger’s record-breaking fall from the sky back in the 1960s and I remembered how fascinated I was with Felix Baumgartner’s stratospheric fall in 2012 which set new records.

Yes, perhaps the money invested in setting up Felix’s stunt could have been better used on feeding starving orphans, but here was a hero we could look up to (I know, pun) who tested the limits of the human body and psyche on our behalf. And who was a man driven, obsessed, not with being a new record holder, but just with falling that far.

For him, looking was not just an act of desire but of looking into the very heart of fear.

The Descent

He strove for years.
Loved the freedom of falling;
The atmosphere like a storm
Resistance versus mass like the friend of my friend.

A higher rise than anyone, ever, before,
Speeding faster than any machine-free human,
Attracting wishes as he shot to earth.
But reality made him check.
His life saving spacesuit friend enclosed him like a death-grip
Reducing heavenly freedom to skintight captivity.
He walked away, disappeared.
But the sky called.
The earth called.
The irresistible journey between horizon up and horizon down.
Minutes after two years, he arrived,
Clamped inside his prison ship.
He dreamt of out-stretched arms,
Diving off, riding the light, thin, air,
A serene smile secure.
But he prised his fingers away
Opened the door
And became a tipped point;
His weight and balance the final decision.
He tumbled and span
A moth in a backdraft
White noise on a screen.
The ground was both his enemy and his friend
Begging intimate conversation
And a loving embrace.
Like a requited lothario
He kissed the earth
Before dreaming once more
Of his true love.

Written by Louisa Davison.

High Wire Act was performed at Lower Shaw Farm as art of Swindon Festival of Poetry.

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One Response to “High Wire Act: Poems in Flight at the Swindon Festival of Poetry”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I was Man for a Day at the Swindon Festival of Poetry | Festival Chronicle - 8th October 2014

    […] be like splitting up the band if I didn’t read something. I remembered that two days earlier I’d written a poem about Felix Baumgartner, the record holder for breaking the sound barrier by falling to earth from the stratosphere. He […]

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