998: A Computerized Jet Fountain in the Detroit Metro Airport

20231114 SD

998: A Computerized Jet Fountain in the Detroit Metro Airport


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

You spoke and we listened. Today’s episode is about poetic craft. The phrase form follows function is ubiquitous. From biology to software design to aviation, it’s a concept that finds application in many aspects of modern life. One is likely to encounter this well-known phrase early in poetry school. Yet, form and function is not as neatly perceived as the Platonic ideal would suggest; furthermore, we are not engineers of language, although how neat it is to think so.

First, the form of a poem is neither a superhero (Batman) nor a sidekick (Robin). Both roles are essential to protect Gotham — getting the bad guys off the street. So too, form and its function share equal attention and their interdependence heightens our sense of safety.

Next, function is not as fixed as we’d like; multiple functions emerge at different moments in time. The basic function of an airplane, for example, is to rapidly transport passengers from one location to another. Yet, its aeronautical design (form) is equally driven by the need to provide an aesthetic experience of flight (function) as much as a need to correctly apply the laws of physics (ultimate function). Otherwise, we’d all be strapped into milk crates and handed loose salted almonds.

The poet Robert Creeley had a different take; he said, “Form is nothing more than an extension of content.” Going with our imaginary flight on Sonnet Air, poetic form amplifies, makes room, builds on the encounter of coasting thirty-five thousand feet above the earth. That is, we begin to encounter the sublime. When stanzaic design, word choice, and sound all work in tandem, I experience a kind of transport that makes the poem seem an inevitable and beautiful truth.

Today’s poem of rhyming quatrains is a perfect example of linguistic beauty; its precise rhymes and conversational meter give the poem a kinetic energy, a lyrical wonder of motion and music.

A Computerized Jet Fountain in the Detroit Metro Airport
by Sidney Wade

                                     I.M. Richard Wilbur

Perfect tubes of water,
shot from hidden modern grottoes, their flat
cylinder heads drily intact,
leap and curve, swift and sleek as otters

and equally alive,	
as if they sported minds of their own and knew
exactly where they had to get to 
and when. Their muscularly perfect dive

into the flat, shining 
mirror of the surface that receives them
is a miracle of theorem,
mathematical and clean, at once defining 

joy and pure control.
The parabolic arches made of time
and pressure express the delicious rhyme
of flight and landing, melting in the bowl

of sure return, the end
its own beginning. The fullness of desire
frolics here in fluid attire
and recognizes, even as it bends

in play, the underside 
of bliss, in polished granite, adamant and black.
We travelers will end up back
where we began, so may our gods provide

us all with equal grace
and fluent spirit on our way, even
if our paths won’t chart the heaven
towards which all hungers leap, all pleasures race.

“A Computerized Jet Fountain in the Detroit Metro Airport” by Sidney Wade from STROKE © 2007 Sidney Wade. Used by permission of Persea Books.