Only by Flying, Helen Evans
HappenStance, 2015   £5.00

Metaphor as gift (Charlotte Gann)

I am not a person who can fly a glider – I cannot, actually, even drive. I do, however, have a life to navigate – and often that can be quite bumpy. Sometimes guidance and reassurance come from surprising sources.

Here Helen Evans shares her gliding life – specifically, her awe and love of flying, and the extraordinary sights ‘I’ll only see / if I trust my impulse to explore’ (‘Vantage Point’). With generous frequency, she takes me up in her glider, and shows me things I couldn’t otherwise experience. I begin to realise her flying can become my metaphor. Quite remarkably, she hands over the controls and trusts me not to crash the pamphlet.

I tell myself to wait, to trust
the sun’s warmth on the ground,
the slow expansion of the night-chilled air
dense around my sailplane’s wings.

We can all recognise the ‘impulse to explore’ she speaks of – and, indeed, those times we lack trust in it – without needing to become literal pilots. And this sense of double-life – of flying as metaphor – never becomes, as it might, corny. The work is too real, too technically able, for that. Flying becomes a metaphor perhaps for me – but never just that for her:

BALLAST: Do you need more?
Or are you already carrying too much?
      (‘Pre Take-off Checks’)

Reading these poems metaphorically is both invigorating and empowering. It also leaves me more able and inspired to cope with my own (metaphorical) mountain ranges and adverse weather systems. There’s so much here about discipline, timing, the art of doing anything well, and over time.

I think there’s also – crucially – empathy and encouragement.

The beauty of the experience (Giles Turnbull)

Helen Evans’ career has included editorship of the sport’s national magazine, Sailplane & Gliding from 1999 to 2008, and in 2009 she was also awarded a Certificate of Merit by the Royal Aero Club. This experience takes flight in a delightful first poetry pamphlet, ‘Only By Flying’.

With early pamphlet poem titles as 'Launchpoint', 'Pre Take-off Checks', 'Today’s Task', 'The Dipper at Rooksmoor Mills' and 'Taking Off', it's not hard to realise this pamphlet is going to show you the mechanics as well as the beauty of gliding.

It is the beauty of the experience that takes your breath away. The art of catching thermals is not the sole preserve of the gliding poems in this pamphlet. Birds make their first appearance in ‘The dipper at Rooksmoor Mills’, where the dipper

would pause on one jutting-out rock
   before launching herself at her nest
in a wall by the A46
   while lorries shook the stonework
         and the millrace echoed
louder than the traffic.

At the funeral of a pilot in ‘Leave-taking’ a red kite appears for a respectful fly-past. In ‘Fledging’ a wren has nested in a tangle of rolled-up fencing wire and turquoise plastic netting slung in an open skip.

These are the contrasts that bring this pamphlet alive. The way a glider can lift you up and into the sky, above ‘the stench of tyres / from that torched car abandoned on a verge’ in ‘Soaring’, while the birds can just as easily settle down on land amid the industrial debris, or the turbine blades wind down 'to reveal goldfinches / illuminated by / silence' in ‘Engine Test’.