Only by Flying by Helen Evans, Review #14

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien-


First off, it’s worth mentioning that Helen Evans is a former glider pilot who edited the magazine Sailplane & Gliding for nearly ten years. It’s worth mentioning because, you might look suspiciously at her pamphlet’s title (is it going to be all about how love is like a bird?). Knowing her credentials makes the contents more reassuring.

And no, there are no poems about whether love is like a bird.

In fact, not all poems are even about flying, ‘Yet I wait for the light’ relates the discovery of a 13th century Jewish family murdered and thrown in a well, with clinical precision. There’s also the no less visceral ‘Boundary Tree’ in which a trunk, wrapped in barbed wire, keeps growing with each barb disappearing ‘into an earlier wound’. Elsewhere she observes how her spider spins ‘a pulse of light’. Each poem is perfectly weighted.

This probably makes Evans’ poem sound grim, but actually, in spite of the fact that many of the poems circle around mortality, there’s a lot of joy here. I particularly appreciated poems where Evans used her flying experience to experiment with her poetry, whether it’s the concrete ‘Engine Test’, or the ‘Pre Take-Off Checks’, in which each part of the plane questions the pilot:

CONTROLS: Are your rudders and ailerons
connected and working properly? Are you sure
you have full and free movement?

Her love of flying shines through in several lyrics too. My favourite is ‘Today’s Task’, which is refreshingly unabashed in its joy:

Mark the maps. Let today be the day
when the aircraft fits you like your favourite coat
and the winch cable clunks into the belly-hook
with a sense of belonging

it ends on:

a set of co-ordinates chosen by you
where no other glider has been.

That sense of wonder, of adventure, is captured in all its effervescence by Evans. Only by Flying might even convert an aviatophobe like me.

This December, I have given myself the task of reviewing one pamphlet a day to raise money for next year’s Saboteur Awards. You can help by donating, or sharing the link using the hashtag #pamphletparty. I am not sure how this month is going to go, some pamphlets will be easier than others. I have given myself the aim of writing at least 300 words for each, a lower word-count than the usual reviews on Sabotage, in the hopes of making it more manageable! Here’s a link to the previously published reviews in this project!