How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) by Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

For me, Barbara Kingsolver’s How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) was a mix of poems that I loved and poems that did not resonate with me at all. The collection as a whole felt like it was made up of too many disparate pieces. Each of the seven sections has a different theme, and I had a difficult time connecting them into a whole. One section is composed of “how to” poems, one section is about a trip to Italy, one section is a long-form poem about knitting, etc. In my opinion, this book would be better off as several chapbooks, rather than a single collection.

Many of what I consider the collection’s best poems appear in the second half of the book: “Six Women Swimming Naked in the Ocean” (p. 59), “Will” (p. 62-63), “Ghost Pipes” (p. 89), and “Love Poem, with Birds” (p. 94). These and others are filled with beautiful language and imagery. For example, the speaker in “After” (p. 67) describes her daughter as “ocean-eyed,” and in “Where It Begins” (p. 81-86), the speaker states, “There will be whole days of watching winter drag her skirts/across the mud-yard from east to west” (p. 81). “Ephemera” (p. 93) plays off the structure of the book of Genesis, beginning with this: “And the equinox said let there be light.” While I did like a few poems in the first sections of the book, the later poems seemed to speak to me more.

I truly wish the entire collection left me stunned like these poems did, but that was unfortunately not the case. In the first section (the “tow to” poems), many of the endings felt forced. The title poem (p. 7) ended with this: “Imagine your joy on rising. Repeat as necessary.” However, I feel the poem would have been much more powerful if it ended on the previous stanza:

…Anything left undone
you can slip like a cloth bag of marbles
into the hands of a child
who will be none the wiser.

The poem’s actual last two lines dull the wonder and discovery throughout the rest of the poem. Many other poems in this section ended flatly as well. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the collection’s fifth section. So many of those poems listed famous poets, to such a high degree that it felt like name-dropping. And it just didn’t seem connected to any of the other sections.

With all that being said, I’m left with this: How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) is a collection of mixed success for me. While I disliked more than I liked, the poems I did truly love redeemed it for me a bit. While I probably won’t be reading the whole collection again, I will certainly go back to those poems.

Available through the Bridges Library System

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