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HUMAN-CARRYING FLIGHT TECHNOLOGY by Christopher Shipman reviewed in ABR


HUMAN-CARRYING FLIGHT TECHNOLOGY by Christopher Shipman is reviewed in the current issue of American Book Review. You can read an excerpt of the review below or follow the link here:



Read the full review in the current issue of American Book Review – in paper only! 

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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I’ve always wanted someone to confirm that going to the bank is heartbreaking, that a spaghetti-splattered microwave is one of the loneliest appliances, that lawns can’t be trusted not to catch fire.Human-Carrying Flight Technology, Christopher Shipman’s first poetry collection, has my back: here, lost love runs errands; a dirty microwave leads a grand parade of unsympathetic appliances; nostalgia and grief light sparklers on a summer lawn.

In “Learning the Alphabet,” the speaker considers his own similarities to a drunk father who named and then abandoned him, saying,

I want to believe 
we don’t walk over 
the un-wearable wings of the dead 
spread out on the streets in front of us

like squares of chalk drawn by kids 
playing hopscotch.

After admitting that “I want to believe it / so badly I need a stiff drink / to forget,” the narrator runs down an “alphabet of genetics” and arrives back at his own birth to chant “a sort of strange aphorism” like a panacea: “to name something / is to begin / killing it.” The lurking, nightmarish fears running beneath the surface of adulthood mixed with the primary-colored trappings of childhood is the most striking characteristic of this collection. The streets, backyards, and parks of Shipman’s poems—varied chunks of free verse whittled out of direct, modest language—are fenced-in gardens blooming with commonplace tragedies and wild miracles.

Immanuel Kant writes in Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798) about soldiers who returned to homes they’d pined for only to be disappointed when they discover it wasn’t a place they missed but a now inaccessible time. If Kant adds nostalgia to homecoming to come up with disillusionment, Shipman’s addends are disillusionment and nostalgia, and they usually equal the speaker being delivered home—to some sort of home, at least.

In “The Apartment Pool at Six,” the speaker describes his childhood perception of a neighborhood pool. It’s bubbling with morbid rumors of drownings; girls with tanned, peach lotion-scented skin; nightmare sharks; and the scrapes and cuts that result from the enthusiastic use of old, rusty equipment. The speaker remembers a summer that negotiates play, fear, lust, and injury in order to re-experience “peek[ing] over at girls / sunbathing in bikinis, their warm bodies close as the sun / saying something small about the dream of the world.”

Elsewhere, in “Staying Put,” a grandmother refuses to move to a new city because doing so would force her to leave “her husband’s bones [that] won’t unbury themselves / from their small plot in the backyard of her brain. / They grow new skin everyday.” These bones walk, make sandwiches, do crosswords, and “hold her hand while she cries / at his grave just across town.” Here, nostalgia and distress aren’t vehicles for homecoming; they’re the means of remaining at home in the midst of children who “can’t understand.”

Of course, sometimes home is where unspeakable things happen. “Since the Toys are Gone” creates an elegantly restrained portrait of a street littered with the debris of a party—wine bottles, bottle rockets—but what really distinguishes this street is what’s vanished: a crayon-drawn sign warning drivers of a two-year old crawling nearby, a piñata, “a mountain of candy. . .and tiny decks / of UNO.”

It bloodied all our fenders 
when the parking lot finally filled with 

Since the kid is gone 
we don’t worry if he wanders off. 
Since the toys are gone we bless the yard 
until our hands are empty.

Human-Carrying Flight Technology is at its best when it uses this kind of...

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