Poet on a Plane

[I wrote this piece for Devour (https://issuu.com/richardgrove1/docs/devour_-_panku_special_editioin__2_-_72dpi) in April 2020 as a response to my lockdown reality during the early stages of the pandemic.]

Once upon a time I was a poet on a plane. Then Covid hit. Now I’m grounded … and writing pankus and all sorts of broken lines, some of which have morphed into other forms, such as the Korean sijo, which you can see in my poem below. Traditionally, it consists of a three-line stanza and a fifteen-syllable count per line, usually with an internal break or pause. I made mine a double, more hybrid than precise. Like the panku (a hybrid of the haiku for these pandemic times), the sijo is a fitting form.

Avoid Dance

You’re not even dressed     and the clocks begin to crystallize

You’ve washed your hands repeatedly from Day 1 to Day 14

You’re just like the rest of the world    avoiding each other

You’ve stayed put the full fathom fourteen    

Now there’s nowhere to go but out

Where you’ll stay another two weeks   avoiding the rest

I was not on a plane when I wrote this poem, although that’s where so many find their beginnings. I suppose I like confined spaces for writing, compressed to extract an idea and set it down in words lined up a certain way. The Cubists, when they first conceived of Cubism, worked in very cramped spaces, garrets and one-room apartments. Their original ideas were literally squeezed out of a tube and reconstructed as boxes and angles, facets and blocks, stacked in ways of seeing. Especially when I fly, I consider myself a Cubist, contained at my seat in a tight cubic metre of space.

Panic may not be the right word to exact my response to Covid-19, although a synonym like anxiety might do. I was anxious the day I left Cuba, crowding into the airport at Holguin, squeezing into a box, cheek to cheek with strangers, almost joined at the hip, reading poems by Eva Kolacz when I could sit long enough. Airplanes and terminals are seed beds for exchanging our most personal, invisible secrets. I dread the thought of spit and buccal spray. Bugs and germs, a virus from the dark unknown. Of course, I was anxious. People coughed and sneezed. Blew their noses in French and English. The airport was packed to bursting.

That flight out of Cuba was on the cusp of Covid alerts in Wuhan. Headlines were getting bigger, there was panic in the font. A few days later I flew into Paris, reading the Cubist poet, Pierre Reverdy, and a week after that I landed in the Algarve where neighbors in Italy (the land of de Chirico) were beginning to self-isolate. The flight out of Faro back to Paris was high anxiety, a game of chance with how to repel a virus, a roll of the dice in an EasyJet tin of sardines. Some people wore masks, I longed for hand sanitizer, but there were no reported cases in Portugal. Not even two weeks later when I flew out of Charles de Gaulle, Terminal E!, diminishing crowds already noticeable. To my horror, the passenger next to me had breath so foul visions of desiccated corpses reeked in my head while we headed for Toronto. The flight was packed to bursting.

By then, the March of 2020 had already begun, an exodus of expatriates. I landed at Pearson the day before flights were being cancelled and airports closed by government decree. Obligatory self-isolation rules for travellers were announced. Out of an “abundance of caution,” I self-isolated for a full fathom fourteen. And now, desperate to join the world again, and in the words of the great Freddie Mercury, I want to break free

dismantle the cage, undo the latches, decompress the confinement … release the poet … vacate the seat … set him free …

But, like this issue of Devour, [see it online at https://issuu.com] it was not all doom and gloom. During my confinement I created a cookie masterpiece, Munch’s The Scream reproduced in Oreo cream. Confinement does that. I took up yoga, my body compressed. I wrote pankus. Who didn’t write pankus? Who didn’t squeeze the metaphorical lyrical puss out of that viral pimple? Oh, how uncube-like the coronavirus in its cell! Repeatedly, I crafted fifteen words confined to fit in just four lines. I found the panku itself prefers tight, restricted spaces. That it works best in a box, about two by two, yay by yay. The panku proved to be the most anti-viral, the very vaccine, of all poetic forms.

The confinement has been epic. The self-isolation like a sonnet for a prison sentence—fourteen days at a time, fourteen lines with or without rhyme or reason. What’s next, I ask myself. Is there life after pankus in a pandemic? Is there hope for the poet on a plane? Will she fly again? Will redefined spaces change the course of in-flight poetry? Will acts of self-confinement take on new creative meanings? Or will self-isolating lead to self-loathing? Has Icarus flown too close to the sun one last time?

No doubt the past will be archived and the panku will lose its anti-viral properties as we enter another age comprised, in Cubist fashion, of boxes stacked, visions of on-line facets, and all the angles needed to get our point of view across.

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