My first book, Music for Landing Planes By, was reviewed in lots of places (thank you, reviewers). A favorite was a delicately observed piece written by Rebekah Sankey at Growler (now subsumed into Barrelhouse, although I couldn’t find the review on their site, and Growler apparently no longer exists). I reproduce Sankey’s review here.
music for landing planes by // Rebekah Sankey
I should begin by telling you I’m in love. When I reached the cover of the book I was done for. Perhaps this is a fault of mine, but it has made me willing to forgive the one fault I find with this book. The blurb on the back of Eireann Lorsung’s music for landing planes by claims its author “honors the makers, methods, and materials embodied in daily objects” and certainly, at surface level, that is what these poems do. But it seems to me this book is much more about the things we cannot make out of the materials of our daily lives; the connections, relationships, and wholenesses we’d like to create out of the parts—here, beautifully rendered, intricate elements—of what we have, but is also always escaping us. The poems long after the city that is also the country, the fragile that will not shatter, the world that will be our home but will not let us in. It is this desire for duality, its recognition and acceptance, that holds the book together from first to last poem.
music for landing planes by is divided into four sections, each introduced with a quote that carefully frames the collection of poems that follow. The very first quotation, from The Gospel of Thomas, positions us in the duality of experience: “…the kingdom of God is stretched out upon the earth, and people do not see it.” Reality and perceived reality are quite at odds in this little world. “Being,” the poem which follows makes use of this understanding. Lorsung writes of birds “across distance I can’t conceive.” Her careful positioning of this line—slightly off-center right, the final line of the first stanza—illustrate the effective consciousness of the content/form relationship that characterizes these poems. “Conceive” plays the role of two characters. The distances are both impossible to understand and to be impregnated with; she cannot make sense of or internalize the world’s duality.
This skillful manipulation of line continues in the following stanzas. “Ash is in the air. / Every place I’ve been / is on fire with words.” We perceive that everything is suddenly true and untrue. “Every place” is simultaneously burnt and burning. It is this line-conscious particularity that gives these poems a sense of order, a neatness that drives me wild with delight. I feel, as a reader, as though I might substitute reading the book for a multitude of chores and tasks: when I am with these poems my house feels clean. They are stitched, they are well-formed, they are handcrafted.
This sense of order balances the poems’ duality, which might otherwise feel chaotic. Lorsung’s contradiction is consistent. We become content knowing, as the speaker does in “The Way to Really Love It,” that “something will begin / or something will stop happening,” which in either case is action. And so we begin to root ourselves in opposing ideas simultaneously, finding their commonalities rather than losing ourselves in the opposition. We are prepared for the two sides of every coin, for the action in “And Will Be:”
They take up yes and no and do not rest
on a single answer. My students
want everything, both, they urge into the classroom
saying what if to their own minds…
I want to climb into their wolf bodies
and live there while they relearn
the world, deleting binary.
Because we are becoming more familiar with the singularity of what appears “binary,” we recognize the way in which even this assertion does not undermine the claims of the poems. Two parallel lines later, in separate stanzas, highlight this: “in some darkness. Nothing,” “into that darkness. Sound”. The same darkness can contain different elements, just as the same poems, stanzas, even here lines, beg us to allow them to contain both.
For all this careful writing, Lorsung does not let her language suffer. These are poems beautiful, often accessible, handed to the reader lovingly, even expectantly.
Nothing touches like tan velvet touches
the palm. Now the cracks come, because what gives
without taking?—Doesn’t exist. say
you forget what is lanolin, what is raw about fleece
uncarded & unwashed. Say the silver feel
of charmeuse lines your sleep.
We are gifted “flying fish / Biplanes in a water-green world,” “the soft musk of thyme,” “All the parallel birches.” We are welcomed to sit and watch, to be among the coming and going of the world of this book, its little city as it goes along with its daily business.
But always we are privy to the contradiction, invited to enquire after how it really is doing, the way one needs to search out the thoughts of some good friends after a long separation. And the book does not hesitate to share with us, I’m a little tired, I’m a little confused, “Nothing can question nighttime, / how stars scatter like birds or seeds… / Except beauty. Except nights…” The poems are conscious of their own vacillations, conscious, too, of the page.
Lorsung makes good use of space, often separating, leaving room to breathe where one might not expect. She is unafraid of punctuation, of teaching us how to move within the space she creates, referencing this both in content and form in “The One You Love:”
in air I would part
these elements to bring him
to you, so late as sweet, as bitter as almonds
after hours in the dry air—
There is something almost Dickinsonian in the tenderness with which these poems are presented, something about the cautious presentation of the self, the way the speaker might bend over backwards to bring you what you love. And so she pleads with the reader, “(- – -, make me all syntactic beauty / …& please Sir, may I know—” and as a reader, I feel entitled to give her even her last wish as the books ends. To recognize all the multiplicity of my world, to see it and grasp it and love it and “go on / and on let it yes let it.”