Poem of the Month, July 2021

The Poem for the Month of July 2021 is “Hattonchatel Revisited,” by Percival G. Hart. Hart was a member of the 135th Aero Squadron, which flew DH-4 observation aircraft in combat in France during the last year of World War I, in the late summer and fall of 1918. He wrote the unit history of the 135th Aero Squadron, which was published in 1939.

This poem was hand-written in a copy of the unit history. It is written in sonnet form, a perfect poetic form for reflection on past events. Hart evidently visited Hattonchatel in July, 1962, and wrote the poem in October of that year.

Hattonchatel Revisited

Percival G. Hart

Now from this high escarpment once again
I trace the winding streams, the towns, the lake,
The woods and poplar-shadowed roads that make
The checkered pattern of the Woevre Plain.
Familiar landmarks I can clearly see,
Remembered for their parts in battle’s tide –
The spots where Suiter and where Boyer died,
Far Metz, and Chambley and the Wooded “V.”

And gazing thus intently I forget
That forty years and more have passed us by,
And half expect to turn and hear Krout say,
“Let’s drive on back to Toul, there’s time to fly.”
And ghosts of warplanes, which long since we met,
Form in the mists that rise from La Chaussee.

November 5, 1918 / July 10, 1962 

Notes:

Woevre Plain, Metz, Chambley, Toul, La Chausee: locations in northern France where the 135th Aero Squadron flew its combat patrols during World War I. Metz was a large German-held town back of the trench lines. The Germans used it as a supply depot.

Hattonchatel is a castle that rises above the Woevre Plain; today it is a stylish tourist attraction.

Suiter: Second Lieutenant Wilbur C. Suiter, killed in action, 9/12/1918

Bowyer: Second Lieutenant James W. Bowyer, killed in action, 9/12/1918

Krout: Second Lieutenant Ray W. Krout, killed in a flying accident after the war, 11/13/1938

Poem of the Month, June 2021

The Poem of the Month for June 2021 is “Air Strike” by Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein, best known for his writings about ballet, was a low-ranking Army enlisted man during World War II. Given his social prominence, he could have been awarded a higher rank but chose to experience the Army at its most basic level. This poem describes his reaction when he saw the Air Force’s bombers flying overhead when they helped allied forces break through the German lines at St. Lo, France, four weeks after the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. It appears in Rhymes of a pfc (David Godine, 1981), his wonderful collection of poems about his time in the Army in World War II.

Air Strike

Lincoln Kirstein

This was the morning to recall: steep azure, stunning, diamond-bright,
An empty cloudless bell-clear shell, stupendous scale for such a sight.
We groundlings held our bivouac field, the ordinary work in hand,
Protected by a pasture plot, busy and far from battle-land.

Abruptly up from out our west, heralded by a droning hive,
Swept over level throbbing air, the stinging squadrons, death alive.
Hand upon hip, in proud amaze, soldiers dropped hatchet, nail and saw;
Four thousand planes roared overhead. We all were speechless in our awe
Of Yaveh, Thunderer, Battle God, who in His just, avenging wrath
Hath lent us much materiel bigger and better than Jerry hath.

This mathematic vision showed four thousand planes complete with crew,
Servant mechanics back at base, whilst over oceans, not a few
Tickers who’d tooled, sailors who’d shipped, these marvels matchless oversea,
Conceive the method and the mind controlling such dread formulae.

To many, it meant money spent; to others, some vague Bad or Good,
Trying to render in tight terms the vast logistics as we could.
An amateur, I multiplied my balance of equivalents,
How I would handle so much cash, or bad, or good, and how events
Always propel hectic techniques to end up in the hands of those
Whoever manfully insist on any program save repose.

In any case, four thousand planes flew overhead and we were there.
That night we listened for the news. It was not mentioned on the air,
But at the morrow’s trumpet-sun, the big guns sounded strong and slow.
We’d cracked their salient, and we were some kilometers past St. Lo.

Poem of the Month–May 2021

Poem of the Month—May 2021

Ninety-four years ago this month, on 20-21 May of 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean alone from New York City to Paris in approximately 34 hours. He flew a Ryan monoplane which he called “The Spirit of St. Louis,” in recognition of the St. Louis (Missouri) merchants who financed his trip. Perhaps no other aviation achievement in the 20th Century matched his feat for cultural and historical significance with the possible exception of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in July of 1969, forty-two years after Lindbergh’s flight.

Soon after his return to the United States, a publishing company sponsored a contest for the best poems to be written about Lindbergh’s flight. The company received over 4,000 submissions, of which one hundred were selected for inclusion in a volume entitled The Spirit of St. Louis, edited by Charles Vale. These poems differ as much in style as in poetic merit. They are listed in alphabetical order according to the first letter of the author’s last name. Some of the submissions were by established poets of the time, including William Rose Benet, Witter Bynner, Robert Tristram Coffin, Nathalia Crane, Babette Deutsche, Thomas Hornsby Ferril, and Harriet Munroe.

Because this is the anniversary month of the flight, I have selected one poem from the book which especially appeals to me, by a poet about whom little is known, other than that he was one of the lucky one hundred. His name is E. R. Coe, and the title of the poem is, not surprisingly, “Lindbergh.” I like it for its poetic form (a sonnet) and content, and especially for the metaphor it employs, which is especially appropriate for this occasion.

Lindbergh

E. R. Coe

He is the poet of the air. He writes
In verse immortal that all men may read.
His metre is a motor-measured beat;
His thought aspires through clouds to distant heights.
He spells in piston-power of strength and speed.
His is the courage that defeats defeat.

His masterpiece was written in the skies;
The dawn and darkness printed its free text—
(For which the ink was brewed from doubts and fears.)
His theme is firmer for the friendly ties
That bind his great achievement to the next
Adventure and the coming splendid years.

He is the poet of the air, whose pen,
A plane’s propeller, spins new dreams for men.

Poem of the Month, April 2021

I have been posting a poem every month for a year. These have been poems written by other poets. So it is time that I posted one of my own. It’s a flight-related topic, as usual.

Signals from Marfa

On the road west from Alpine, just before we descend
To Marfa, a green oasis in the dry west Texas plain,
We see the cone-shaped structure in a rancher’s field,
Inverted funnel pointing to the sky: the Marfa VOR,
Navigation aid for pilots, sending out its steady signal
In all directions.

Across the road on the south side, another
Structure stands, where earthly visitors hope
To see the Marfa Lights, which locals say are
Generated by unknown sources, blinking strangely
In the desert night, signals from UFOs
Seeking affirmation.

Once, long ago, flying east, high above Marfa,
When lightning formed a wall that blocked
Safe passage to my training base, I dialed in
The VOR frequency, listened for its reassuring
Signal in the storm-filled night, another flying object
Searching for home.

Notes:

VOR: Very High Omni Range; a radio signal; usually combined with a TACAN (Tactical Air Navigation) signal generator as well. These days VOR/TACAN stations are little used due to reliance on GPS (Global Positioning System) and improved ground radar coverage.

Marfa Lights (information provided by Wikipedia): The Marfa lights, also known as the Marfa ghost lights, have been observed near U.S. Route 67 on Mitchell Flat east of Marfa, Texas, in the United States. They have gained some fame as onlookers have attributed them to paranormal phenomena such as ghosts, UFOs, or will-o’-the-wisp. Scientific research suggests that most, if not all, are atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights and campfires.