The Death of Flying Things
Poems by Gabriel Welsch
WordTech Editions, 2012
Reviewed by Kali Lightfoot
At first glance, a reader might assume that Gabriel Welsch’s book, The Death of Flying Things, would embody loss, but it is much more a book about change: changes that happen in a moment or in a lifetime. The changing of seasons, too shape the book: seasons in nature across a year as well as seasons of the heart, physical or metaphysical. Welsch also considers a wide variety of “flying things” from moths to fireworks, walnuts, sparrows, snow, light, and song and its echo. All with an undertone of elegy that manages to be elegiac without being mournful.
The cover image is a collage titled “four seasons: part four,” by Megan Reed, a flight of red bubbles suspended above a field of stones. Will the bubbles fall or disperse into the air? Turning the page, we find an epigraph from Greg Pape’s poem “Animals” (American Flamingo): “When I began to wake up and love my life, / for a long time most of the animals / I noticed were dead.”
The lyric without lamentation embodied in Welsch’s is exemplified by “No Diving,” first published by Broadsided Press with art by Jim Benning. The poem in 14 lines carefully considers a moment, not the moment of a boy diving—flying?—into the posted pond, the moment he hits bottom, nor even the one when he doesn’t resurface, though all of those moments are mentioned. The moment at the “turn,” and at the heart of the poem, is the specific one when someone notices that he hasn’t come up:
….How sharp a wind that carries
a howl, a kick of sand, a book dropped.
Turn to any page and seek the letters
to spell loss. See how each corner
has its number near where the sharp
page ends, each turn a cut waiting.
The summer, the sails, the horizon, the blanket
all have their ends. (55)
Welsch tends to write in stanzas or columnar forms in this book, though some more recent poems published elsewhere use the page more like a canvas for words displayed across space. He is a poet in love with the texture and sound of words, as in these lines full of deep, wide “ah” sounds that introduce “The Oldest Roller Coaster in the World:”
Embalmed in chipping paint, its spars yawed
with each bump and shimmy of the cart
that clattered down the slopes with all
the excitement of gravity…(49)
Or this from “Stacking Firewood,” a poem for his wife:
…how much we can do without a glance
or word exchanged, in a dance
that flickers and wavers like the low red
flames over a bed of embers banking
the last heat before morning. (18)
Although published in 2012 and containing poems written before that, The Death of Flying Things is certainly a book that speaks to 2020, a time of both sudden and profound change in almost every aspect of human life. Readers will find Welsch a poet in love with the world in all its chaos of beginnings and endings—the background against which each of us navigates through a life.
The Broadsided Poem in the Book:
“No Diving” by Gabriel Welsch, Art by Jim Benning, Published April 1, 2011
Three Questions from Broadsided Press; Three Answers from Gabriel Welsch
Bsided: You have published 3 previous full-length collections of poetry, but I notice that your next book will be short stories—launching in December 2021. Are you now focusing on writing fiction, or does this next book represent work that grew alongside your poetry? Do you prefer one genre over the other, and if so, why?
Gabriel Welsch: I earned my MFA in fiction. In the program at Penn State at the time, you had to take at least one workshop in another genre, and I chose poetry. I had always written it on the side, sort of a desultory pursuit that carried odds and ends that didn’t make it to stories. The professor, Robin Becker, looked at what I wrote and told me that perhaps I should take poetry more seriously. So I did. I’ve written and published fiction for longer than I have poetry, and I write both. The stories in the upcoming book, Groundscratchers, were written as I also was writing poems. I don’t really have a preference for one genre over the other–and I don’t go through periods of writing one or the other exclusively. It’s all mixed up.
Bsided: You are Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and you have had a long career in other university leadership positions. Those are big, consuming, jobs. What have been your strategies for finding/making the time and the head space to write and publish 3 books plus one chapbook of poetry, and now a book of short fiction?
Gabriel Welsch: I worked for many years as a landscaper, and during those years I started writing. The only time to do so was early in the morning, since I often had to be on the job by sunrise and I would return pretty much unable to do anything other than eat and fall into bed. So the habit of morning writing formed. For more than 30 years I’ve written in the morning, before anything else. It used to be every single day, and now it’s just most days (since the jobs are, as you note, consuming, and there are times of the year when the meetings or calls start at 7 am or earlier). But even if you write every other day for a year, you end up with some pages. As for the head space, the benefit of working in higher ed administration is that you meet all kinds of people and, especially when I was a fundraiser, you hear a lot of stories. If you’re curious, the head space creates itself.
Bsided: The poem “No Diving” is particularly haunting in the way you have left the future moments of the story up to your reader’s imagination. What brought you to that decision as you crafted the poem?
Gabriel Welsch: That poem came from observation, sitting on a pier at the Chautauqua Institution, looking out at where kids were swimming around a floating dock with that sign affixed. They would disappear for a while. I get nervous with kids in water–not logically, just instinctively. And so I would try not to watch them. I saw a person reading and noted that. As I worked on the poem later, it got longer as I tried to find resolution for what really was my own feeling of menace. Once I edited down, it was the menace–of the sign, the play, my mind, the book, what might happen if the person reading suddenly exploded into action in the face of silence–that remained. So I went with it.
Kali Lightfoot’s poems and reviews of poetry have appeared in journals and anthologies, been nominated twice for Pushcart, and once for Best of the Net. Her debut collection is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press in 2021. Kali earned an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find her at kali-lightfoot.com.