Exuberance

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Intoxicated with the history of aviation, Dolores Hayden has written a work of historical imagination that is vocally energetic, psychologically acute, and musically sophisticated. In their love of physical risk and in their daredevil elan, the speakers in these poems keep faith with the mundane facts of flight as well as its spiritual intimations. The movement between lyrical speech and historical reflection gives us not only a portrait of the early years of the twentieth century, but a book in which technological advance is given a profoundly human voice.

— Tom Sleigh, poet, dramatist, essayist, author of House of Fact, House of Ruin 

Dolores Hayden’s poems beautifully capture the early decades of aviation in the United States, a time when many Americans responded with awe and amazement to the then-new technology. Hayden, though, explores below the public’s infatuation to give us a glimpse into the aviator’s dreams, both realized and broken; the carnival-show atmosphere of exhibition flying, with all the attendant ballyhoo; the impact of race and gender; and the often flawed and all-too-human heroes and heroines of the age. And in the final poem of the collection, she deftly connects the world of aviation enthusiasm to the world of flappers, bathtub gin, and stock speculation. A must read for pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and those who remember that Gatsby had an airplane.

— Janet Bednarek, Professor of History, University of Dayton, author of Airports, Cities, and the Jet Age, co-author of Dreams of Flight 

Dolores Hayden performs her own high-flying act, presenting the interwoven monologues of seven stunt pilots (men and women) along with lyrics about flight at the dawn of U.S. aviation. With energetic language and inventive forms appropriate to her subject, she captures the risk and “exuberance” of those who flew (and sometimes died) in pursuit of air records and aerial feats. She recreates a bygone era with striking imagery and tone. Her book is as interesting as it is pleasurable to read.

— Gardner McFall, poet and librettist, author of On the Line, The Pilot’s Daughter, and Amelia 

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Exuberance, a poetic sequence set in the earliest years of aviation, explores everyday risk and extraordinary exuberance. Pilots Lincoln Beachey, Blanche Stuart Scott, Harriet Quimby, Ruth Law, Ormer Locklear, Clyde Pangborn, and Bessie Coleman fly at carnival altitudes, hitting the highs and lows of daredevil performers.  They engage a chorus of promoters, parachute jumpers, and fans, all wondering how the spectacular experience of being able to move through the air will transform life on the ground. The action begins at the first air meet at Dominguez Field in 1910 and closes with the first trans-Pacific flight in 1931.

Selections from the book have appeared in Poetry, Southwest Review, Yale Review, Ecotone, American Scientist, and Raritan: 

Exuberance

Exuberance sips bootleg gin from a garter flask
with a ruby monogram, “E.”

She wears a red dress one size too small,
flirts with everyone,

dares Lincoln Beachey to run his tank dry,
ride a dead stick all the way down.

She watches Ormer Locklear climb
out of the cockpit two hundred feet up,

tap dance on his upper wing
as the houses of honest families

with their square-fenced yards
slide below his shuffle. An oval pond

winks in the sun, like a zero.
Exuberance challenges Clyde Pangborn

to master the Falling Leaf, ignore
the Graveyard Spiral, the Doom Loop.

Aviators predict every American will fly,
Exuberance believes Everybody Ought

to Be Rich, John J. Raskob explains why
in the Ladies Home Journal. She gets stock tips

from her manicurist, call loans from her broker,
buys Radio, Seaboard Utilities, Sears,

orders shares in investment trusts—why not?—
chain stores keep multiplying, cars, trucks,

planes, houses. This nation is all about growth,
growth and leverage, look at the skyscrapers shooting up,

men rivet steel, floor after floor, high speed elevators
spring through the cores, planes soar over them all.

Sherman Fairchild has made a million
selling aerial photographs of real estate.

Exuberance travels constantly, owns land
in Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Palm Beach,

she trades binders on lots five times over,
befriends Mr. Charles Ponzi from Boston

who is raking in a bundle near Jacksonville.
Prices for sand and palms are sure to rise,

Glenn Curtiss has bought two hundred thousand acres
in Dade County, he’s building towns.

But how do we know when irrational exuberance
has unduly escalated asset values?

Wall Street is wing walking,
soon the bankers and the brokers

will borrow the aviators’ lexicon,
claim their own tail risks, graveyard spirals,

graph their own doomsday cycles,
wonder how everything blue-sky stayed up so long. 

Exuberance buys more stock on margin,
volume runs high, the ticker tape

can’t keep up, higher, higher.

First published in Poetry, 2014