angels by William Fairbrother, Review by Brendan McEntee

                                                                                                
angels

.

my sense is that all winged creatures are angels –
hummingbirds, bees, flies, mosquitoes, gnats – even wasps,
fairies, buttercup, pegusi – also boeing 747’s –
‘noise is arythmic and a creature’ – pronounced john cage

and there are some, few, people who are angels – they fly –
people flapping arms who just give everything filling our nothing
with something – without deception attached – angels
i say – they’re everywhere – so much so we swoosh them away.

as far as the heavenly type is concerned, that doesn’t concern me –
i’ll travel only so far and then give up in loss and victory –
such is death – and i will greet them with the same respect
to flying insects – for whatever reason insecurity wounds my soul.

the heart of my fellow-travelers silent from a distance
reaches inside my bones – to that place where i unfold wings.

.

_______________
William Fairbrother

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                                                                       Review by Brendan McEntee 

Angels…a well-known trope, easily at hand and not easily understood. We hear or read the word and we recognize the concept: holy beings, transcendent functionaries of Heaven. Angels are short-hand for accessible bliss and of an active force of good in the world, and though they exist as “other” as in, not human, in Western faiths, they serve as lodestones of achievement without having As Theodora Ward writes in “Men and Angels”: “Why is this symbolic angel figure so persistent and so powerful, and what is its meaning? It eludes definition and presents so many faces to the inquirer that he is inclined to give up the attempt to interpret it and conclude that the angel is whatever you think it is and in the end may be meaningless.” The failure of language to resolve—or perhaps even serving to establish—this meaninglessness; the post-modern construct of relative interpretation as the fundamental value of our time as well as the Romantic inclination of mystic self-transcendence coupled with victimhood and the crisis of the individual are, for this reader, what make up the heart of this poem.  Beginning with the first line, the reader is given a broad concept (“all winged creatures are angels”) couched in contemporary “safe” language (“my sense is”). Think of the difference of the line beginning “I believe,” or simply, “All winged creatures are angels”: the first has the potential of stirring unease, as beliefs are not something that should be voiced, and the second, in its absoluteness, has the potential of setting the reader up as an opponent in an ontological discussion. But by use of those three words—’my sense is’—the poet has the reader agree to his terms: what’s more inoffensive than sense? By removing the declarative, the poet carries the next line into the commonplace world of insects and birds, then graduates to the absurd of “fairies, buttercup, pegusi – also boeing 747’s –” but this is no more absurd than the initial posit of all “winged things are angels.” The opening line relies on the general understanding of angels before taking it further. ‘noise is arythmic and a creature’ – ‘pronounced john cage’ ends that first stanza as an invocation and a justification: Boeing 747’s can be transcendent because they are alive in their noise. The reader is turned around. The language manipulates the reader with relativism in the form of opinion which “…suggests that all points of view are equal; it reassures us, for it gives an inoffensive appearance to ideas by reducing them to the levels of tastes.” (Sartre Anti-Semite and Jew), then hits us with an empirical argument. The reader is carried along into the next stanza where:“and there are some, few, people who are angels – they fly –
people flapping arms who just give everything filling our nothing
with something – without deception attached – angels
i say – they’re everywhere – so much so we swoosh them away.”

People are now angels, and so many that they’ve become pointless. The demarcation line of spirit has been broken and the line between god-kind, angel-kind and mankind ceases to exist. And this is not discomforting, because, the tropes of language allow us to stay within the poem. If the concept of angels as ascendant beings holds, than what better for we, the fallen, to assume their grace. And by stanza three, all have been leveled: heavenly angels, the only kind, well:

“as far as the heavenly type is concerned, that doesn’t concern me -/i’ll travel only so far and then give up in loss and victory -/such is death – and i will greet them with the same respect/ to flying insects –…” At this point in the poem, the angel of the title and the opening line is gone, exploded while still remaining locked in the language. Now, the angel is less about its spirit than about the host—the community in which the angel lives, and the narrator is not a part of. In order to fulfill the mystic notion of angelhood, it must be reduced and redirected. Given the unfixed nature of language in a relative age, that can happen. That, however, the stanza ends “for whatever reason insecurity wounds my soul.” illustrates the failure of the achievement. Although insects, men, fairies and planes exist as angels doesn’t assuage the narrator’s feelings of separation and loneliness and may serve to compound them. The “wounded soul” (a purple image to be sure), the hero-victim who sees a world in which all is transcendent but still suffers from self-doubt becomes a fallen angel, but remains an angel. The narrator becomes the symbol of doubt and person in crisis, alienated by his insecurity while at the same time continuing the Romantic tradition. Though we’ve been taken for a ride with the narrator, manipulated and turned around, we still identify with the narrator’s self-doubt. The poem finishes with the narrator, at a distance, engaging in the power: “the heart of my fellow-travellers silent from a distance/reaches inside my bones – to that place where i unfold wings.” Silence has become a sound, (counter-intuitive to the cage pronouncement in stanza 1) and the fellow travelers, “from a distance” are able to elevate the narrator. The wings unfold in the spirit, not the flesh, forcing difference, forcing a moment of clarity in the world that he has created.


Though we have a moment where angel wings are stirred within the narrator, the poem is thoroughly tragic. The moment of transcendence is compromised by the narrator’s insecurity, his need to be separate: though the universe of the poem is of his own creation, he cannot accept the terms of his creation and must be satisfied with living in the pale, a Byronic model in modern isolation. Recasting language hasn’t saved the narrator, and while his wings may, for a moment, but stirred by his compatriots, his distance—comprised of his self-doubt—leaves him not fallen, but lost.

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