In the three stanzas of Fulton’s ‘Aviation,’ she describes a speaker’s experience in her small, northern town. Here, she is faced with intense feelings of alienation while describing the various groups she is not a part of. Readers from all walks of life are likely to relate to some part of this poem as nearly everyone has experienced similar feelings of isolation and loneliness.
‘Aviation’ by Alice Fulton describes a small northern town and a speaker’s lack of connection to groups within it.
In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker begins by describing their own loneliness. It is especially poignant when it’s dark and cold in their northern home. They see men and women, families and friends, going about their lives through the brightly lit windows of their homes, and they are struck by intense feelings of alienation. As the lines progress, they reveal that they see themselves as distant and separate from every group they encounter within their, seemingly, small town.
You can read the full poem here.
Nothing is lonelier than what’s human: a group of them
at work or play is enough
I attended once and know
In the first part of the first stanza, which is thirty-six lines long, the poet begins with a statement about loneliness. They describe how when seeing a group of people together working or playing, they are reminded of their own loneliness. It is clear that the speaker experiences feelings of alienation when seeing the connections that other people form. This is especially poignant “up North” where it gets dark earlier. While looking through lighted windows one can see (like lit up drive-in screens) the lives of families and friends playing out.
In the second part of the section, the speaker describes a gathering in which people play cards in social halls. She tried to attend once (so she knows exactly what to see there). She includes numerous images in the section, something that is common to the poet’s style of writing. The descriptions of Coke, Bic lighters, puffs of smoke, and more should help readers imagine exactly what the scene looks and feels like.
that by the end a gray funk
plaques the air, dense enough to choke a poet
with a light blurry as the light
through tears. And let me add the certain loneliness
When these gatherings are over, the speaker said that a “gray funk” filled the air that was dense enough to “choke a poet.” Here, the speaker, who could be Fulton herself, refers to their profession. The gatherings are entirely unpoetic and uninspiring. But, when the world is dark up north, and it is cold everywhere, you “can’t do better.” This inspires the poet to transition into talking about the 6 x 6 mobile hut. It blends in, except for its trim, in the slow. Underneath, the river flows, and anglers lower their hooks into the river to “snag tom cod.”
By the end of the day, she says, the hut is filled with “gleanings” from the river. In Fulton’s characteristic style, she provides readers with as much information about the scene as they could possibly ask for. The catch is “bagged in plastic” and curving “like primitive spoons.” Here is one of many examples of similes within this particular poem.
of looking at the snow-
but think she’d have no use for me.
I can tell a snowshoe from a crosse only
In the second stanza, the poet returns to the concept of loneliness introduced at the beginning of the first stanza. She adds that a certain loneliness presents itself when “looking at the snow.” The snow makes the speaker feel lonely and brings her to a description of a shoemaker. In combination with the depiction of the angler hut, readers get an idea of what this northern town is like during the winter. These are not contemporary professions that most people are going to see on an everyday basis. The poem provides the reader, to a degree, an image of an older way of living.
The speaker values the work of the shoemaker because her shoes are what allows “hunters and lovers” to suspend themselves “above the delicacies of snow.” She admires the woman, but, she thinks that the woman would have “no use for [her].” Here, she brings in, once again, her feelings of alienation and separation from the rest of her community.
because I once saw one all-women’s match:
the Maliotenam Indian Reserve
against the shifty air.
The poem ends with an image of a team game, “the Maliotenam Indian Reserve / versus Ursula’s Body Shop.” The past and present meet once again and, together, play in high colors in a win or lose game “from net to net.” When watching, the speaker is struck by how important the game seemed. But, as always, she is an outsider looking in. She is not part of the anglers fishing on the river, she is not of importance to the shoemaker, she is not a consistent attendee at the game night, and she’s not a member of either team in these last lines.
Structure and Form
‘Aviation’ by Alice Fulton is a three-stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains thirty-six lines, the second: fifteen, and the third: nine. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This is common within Fulton’s verse, as it is within the work of most contemporary poets. Although there is no specific structure that unifies the lines, Fulton does make use of numerous literary devices that help to give the poem a type of structure. Alliteration, enjambment, and examples of half and full rhyme are among these.
Throughout this piece, Fulton makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: occurs when a poet inserts a pause in a line of verse. This could be through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, “ropes. It takes shoes like blow-ups.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “brogues” and “bifocals” in lines two and three of the second stanza and also in line three, “fixes” and “frame.”
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting and effective descriptions. They should inspire the reader to imagine the scene in the greatest detail as possible. For example: “a plump woman in brogues, dark socks, / bifocals.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines three and four, five and six.
It is not entirely clear who the speaker is within the three stanzas of this poem. But, it is possible that Fulton saw herself in this role. Whoever the speaker is, they experience intense feelings of isolation, loneliness, and alienation when they see groups of friends and family members going about their lives.
The tone is at once dejected and amazed. In the three stanzas of the poem, it becomes clear quite quickly that despite the speaker’s feelings of isolation and dejection, that she is amazed by the sights, sounds, and other sensory experiences on display around her.
It is likely that Alice Fulton wrote this poem in order to explore feelings of alienation and isolation. Whether or not she is the speaker should not influence the reader’s understanding of the speaker’s experiences and her reaction to groups and group activities.
The main theme of this poem is isolation. The speaker sees herself as separate from the various groups going about their lives within the poem. This includes the anglers, the card players, and the two teams playing a ball game at the end of the poem.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Alice Fulton poems. For example:
- ‘Babies’ – describes the different ways that children and adults understand the world.
Other related poems include:
- ‘This is my letter to the world’ by Emily Dickinson – focuses on themes of isolation and the search for companionship.
- ‘Alone’ by Edgar Allan Poe – speaks to the poet’s loneliness using his characteristic style.