Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In “Airplanes Make Perfect Mobiles,” there is interplay between the singular speaker, I, and the plural we that brings in a sense of community and family connection, as in the lines “And our hands became our / fathers’ and our mothers’ hands and our neighbors’. / And we forgot about ourselves.” Can you tell us about how you developed the speaker’s sense of identity and voice in the poem?
Tyler Farrell: I like to play with identity in my poetry and take on many personas. I think it is a really interesting concept of how people see themselves versus how we see other people. And often I move between the “I” of the speaker and the “We” of a larger audience or group of people speaking. I wanted this poem to address the idea that often we perceive something in our own way, but how that way of thinking can become the public perception. A large group of people have an opinion about something, but then it becomes the collective understanding. We often make choices based on how people might look at us and how and why we make these decisions, but then we evolve and we see other people doing that too and it starts to solidify our understanding of certain ideas or concepts. I also write a lot about the idea that often our families and friends can shape our perception of things, that our ideas can be almost dictated by our mothers and fathers, our neighbors too. They keep us in check and make us see that we do things out of self-motivation but also to please others as well. One theme I think this poem addresses is the idea that we have to live with our choices and we have to somehow explain them to the people we are close too and sometimes that can be difficult. The function of a mobile has always fascinated me. I had one made out of little tin airplanes in my bedroom growing up. And then I did more research on them when I saw some of Alexander Calder’s large mobiles in art museums. And they were wonderful to see because it is art form, but there has to be a sense of balance in them and in everything we do. I think we learn about that sense of balance in our own lives – finding a good balance of the choices we make in life and what we want to get from life as well. This poem reflects the fact that we have to see balance in almost everything including very personal relationships.
RR: This poem brings in the idea of machinery vs. love. How do you think the advancement of our technology changes human relationships?
TF: This is an excellent question. I think that the advancement of technology does indeed change our perception of human relationships and how we go about them, evolve them. However, love will always be love and I like to think about how poetry is love and writing and good art are all filled with love. I also reflect on this idea a lot because my mentor, poet James Liddy, taught me via his poems and also spending time with him how important love really is for most people. The feeling it gives us to be loved. Technology might make certain things easier in relationships, but other things more difficult. We can check on people more through social media and reach out and connect even when we are far away. But technology might try to help love, but it can never replace it – There might be a sense recently that technology can fill the void of a lack of a close relationship or lack of love. But nothing can really take the place of human touch and human connections and feelings and the way in which someone makes you feel. We might get our information faster thru technology if someone loves us – but that probably makes us want to be closer to the person right away. Love is a big word and cannot be replaced by machinery even though some people try. In a lot of ways love will always be the same because we can choose how we use technology for it. I still think people can write really great love letters and send them via email and the sentiment will be the same as when we send love letters thru the mail. But I still prefer sending love letters through the mail. It seems more poetic to me even though I have sent love letters via email as well. Overall I think that the advancement of technology might change certain aspects of our relationships or adjust them, but we as humans will always want to be loved and we will also want to read good poetry about love and human relationships.
RR: How important is accessibility to you? How hard should a reader have to “work” for the meaning of a poem?
TF: I think that poetry is not meant to just be figured out as to what each poem means. The reader can look for clues as to meaning, but should also look to how a poem makes you feel – the emotional response. I want the reader to try to understand the poem from his/her own perspective, but mostly I like the way a poem makes you feel and how it can relay ideas that are complex and insightful – ideas that can make people think. Often I write a poem and someone will ask what it means and I will say first – what do you think it means? And often those ideas might be right or true, but sometimes they can give me new insight into the poem and see it in a way that is unique and a way I never thought of. These thoughts should be looked at from a critical or analytical standpoint and there are ways to make a case for meaning. And that is the great thing about any kind of art, written or visual, that the audience is asked to think about the work, to ponder and come up with ways to interpret, to rely on clues in the work to point is in a direction, not tell us where to go. All readers should work at finding meaning but they should also work at finding emotion and wordplay and sound and thought and fun and try to discover something that speaks to them. Novalis, the 18th century German poet, author, philosopher said that “chaos in the work of art should shimmer behind the veil of order” and I completely agree. We as readers need to look to both in poetry – chaos and order – and embrace what both can give us for meaning and emotion.
RR: In your bio you mention that you lead study abroad programs to Ireland and London. How has travel impacted your writing?
TF: Travel always has a massive and positive impact on my writing. I am very inspired when I am in a new place or even a place I have travelled to before. Being away from home and looking to new places is something I recommend for all writers. I love to go somewhere and write poem about the experience – to reflect and ponder and think about how a new way of seeing can bring about new ways of writing. A new place forces the writer to look at things in a new way. And a writer should strive to show us something new and wonderful and not boring or cliched. Plus Ireland is so very beautiful and filled with lots of art and culture and places to be expressive. And London is large and busy and has a sense that the city can be inspiring too. But I have traveled many places and many places have brought me huge amounts of inspiration. Listening to the muses in another part of the world is very good for a writer. I highly recommend travel to inspire a writer. It can be eye opening and filled with lots of good insight. After all a writer really always writes about the human condition and travel makes us examine ourselves and others and leads us to new ideas and thoughts. I very much like to travel somewhere, anywhere and write poem about it – the experience, the insight. I also write a lot of postcards to people which are very much like little poems from a certain place in the world. Travel is always inspiring for a writer – Go poetry, go traveling. The world is your classroom – go experience it and write about what you have learned about yourself and others.
RR: We were surprised by how this poem fits in unexpected ways into the theme for the issue. Did you write it with those connections in mind? And how do you see it connecting to the idea of cosmos?
TF: I wrote the poem about a couple years ago so it was long before your theme for the issue. But when I saw that your magazine was looking for poems in connection with cosmos I thought it fit quite well. I am always fascinated with people and our connection to the universe. I have always been a avid fan of the universe and the moon and planets and stars and last year I visited the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona where an astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh discover Pluto in 1930. You can still see the telescope he used. It is was so incredibly amazing and I felt an amazing connection to the place (I also found out later that Tombaugh was born in the same city I was – talk about connection to the cosmos). And I spent the entire day and much of the night at the observatory with my two sons (Holden, age 11 and Linus, age 9) and we got to look thru a telescope at Jupiter and its four largest moons and also we looked at the sun through a telescope with a filter on it and the whole experience was enlightening and I wrote this poem and a lot more poems addressing similar issues. Every time I ponder aspects of planets and people I tend to write about it because we are connected to the cosmos in such a deep way. And I see this poem connecting to the cosmos deeply and uniquely because it doesn’t really directly mention the universe, but it talks about those connections – spiritually and personally – the balance I was talking about earlier in relation mobiles and our desire to move and travel places in airplanes – physically and metaphorically. And the poem mentions that fact that we all want to get something out of life and we work hard and have setbacks, but we keep going. I teach a class on Irish drama and I love the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and that play is very philosophical – the two main characters (Vladimir and Estragon) contemplating the moon and life and what it is like to be part of life. And I think those ideas eek themselves out in my poetry. And I feel they are good topics for poems because we all look to have something in our lives – meaning and love and care and a sense that what we are doing is right and good. Sometimes ideas pour out of me and I revise and revise and turn them into a poem that expresses the deep connection we have with each other and the cosmos. It is quite fun to ponder these ideas and I find it enlightening as well. I bet I’ll have more in the future with new ideas about similar themes. Writing is certain good.
Tyler Farrell’s work in Issue 5.3: