Coming In on a Wing and a Lyre: Nathaniel Tarn’s Avia

liztgrayEssays, Poets, Reviews

Nathaniel Tarn Pilot

Nathaniel Tarn Pilot

Nathaniel Tarn’s scholarly and literary work spans genre, history, mythologies, continents, and cultures. His lyric poetry is sensuous song, deeply infused with the natural world, often reaching for the limits of human and divine love. What, then, to make of Avia, Tarn’s 264-page poem—fifteen years in the making—the center volume of a planned trilogy that offers us a highly-granular portrait of air combat in World War II? Where did it come from? Where and how does it fit in his poetic oeuvre? 

Avia is an astonishing and powerful work. It is located squarely within the world’s epic tradition, heir to The Iliad, The Mahabharata, and every epic that has at its core heroes, war, and the speaking dead.  The poem itself is central to an understanding of Tarn and his work. Its roots can be seen in the poems that precede it and its core concerns illuminate the work that follows it…

[You can find the rest of this essay at Dispatches From the Poetry Wars, where it is part of a portfolio of work in honor of poet Nathaniel Tarn. The essay discusses the poem itself, and the collaged material–from air combat after-action reports to world epic and myth–as well as its origins in Tarn’s experience and prior work. It also looks at how this material reappears in more recent lyrics in Gondwana (New Directions, 2017).]