How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons): Poetry
“Kingsolver grants strong attention to personal memories and historical images. She also engages nature. Everyone will find poems to enjoy.”
Barbara Kingsolver’s How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) is a collection of highly personal poems that extract metaphors from how-to lessons, travels through Italy, poetic tributes, natural encounters, and several other subjects. The title lends its name from a poem about rebirth, bliss, and joy, in which she personifies the cyclical growth of nature, and how we need to imagine ourselves constantly evolving.
“By the Roots” harnesses these concepts. Here is the first stanza: “Crouched in the garden / knees to elbows, fists to the earth, / wrenching weedy orchard grass / from the mud-soaked roots / of my tendered corn, / ripping the soil that feeds me, / feeling its outrage, I am / all of a moment tearing out / the hair of the world. Memory runs / through me like hot water: My brother //. . .” Kingsolver transforms the experience of weeding and wrestling with her brother into a sense of belonging, comparing the roots of earth to those of family; she forms a bond.
One peculiar bond is with sheep. Through a lesson on shearing, Kingsolver creates a strong sense of irony with simple images in “How to Shear a Sheep.” Here are some lines: “Walk to the barn / before dawn. / Take off your clothes. / Cast everything / on the ground: / your nylon jacket, / wool socks, and all . . . / Sing to them instead . . . / Ask them to come . . . / lay down their wool / for love. / That should work. / It doesn’t.” Kingsolver contrasts proper technique with a nontraditional wooing one, both of which ultimately fail in a humorous last line. The poem is playful and states the truth: sheep are nonsensical, so are people.
Kingsolver writes uniform stanzas with similar line counts and breaks. All poems are punctuated. All poems are crisp. She plays with form in “Insomniac Villanelle.” Including only one form in a collection is odd, as most poets dabble with forms throughout their collections.
There are no risks or experimental poems, thus all are easily understood. She also uses clear images, even throughout the Italian tour section of the book. One would think an entire book would be devoted to Italian poems, yet Kingsolver has chosen to insert a series in the middle of her collection. Although their inclusion is awkward, the poems are enjoyable.
The first “How to Fly” section is the most striking because the poems are new. They are fun life lessons. Instructional poems are unusual, especially ones that teach us how to shear sheep, as analyzed previously. This collection instructs with character and charm.
Kingsolver’s second poetry collection is not groundbreaking or astonishing. It is comforting. It is accessible to families and includes diverse subjects. Kingsolver grants strong attention to personal memories and historical images. She also engages nature. Everyone will find poems to enjoy.