From Kitty Hawk to the jumbo jet and from the lunar landing to interstellar probes, American poets in On the Wing explore the phenomena of aviation and space flight. Edited by Karen Yelena Olsen, this balanced yet buoyant anthology collects 116 poems. The six thematic sections celebrate past achievements and the sensuous joys of flying (“Impulse of Delight”), revel in the vistas opening to the airborne traveler (“Worlds Above, Below, Within”), ponder the impact of air travel on everyday life (“Airplane Visions, Airport Truths”), outline the sinister role of the airplane in war (“Angle of Attack”), lament the shadow of airborne tragedy (“Icarus Falling”), and explore the mythic dimensions of space flight (“Space Odysseys”).

Olsen’s introduction traces the prehistory of flight literature from the Bible to the 19th century and sketches the evolution of 20th-century response, from initial exuberance to a more nuanced and probing examination of aviation and aerospace as they affect our lives. The book includes a short history of flight in the U.S. The product of a lifetime’s passion for both flight and poetry, this collection will deeply interest those who have never been on a plane—and delight those who have.

“When man took to the air, he was inspired and enthralled. On the Wing is an excellent collection of poems inspired by the great adventure. This book belongs in the library of everyone who loves flight or appreciates the gentle art.“—Stephen Coonts
“To my knowledge On the Wing is the only anthology that aspires to represent the entirety of the tradition of poems by American poets about the 20th-century history of air flight and space flight. It performs the commendable and essential service of gathering fugitive poems of genuine beauty, accessibility, and insight in order to define more clearly the most significant qualities of living in an air age. I finished the book with a deeper understanding of how air and space consciousness permeates our culture and how successfully poets have adapted these themes—the essence of modernity—to teach lessons about everyday and extraordinary life.“—Laurence Goldstein, author of The Flying Machine and Modern Literature and editor of the Michigan Quarterly Review
On the Wing is a superb collection of poems that capture the excitement, fear, drama, mundaneness, joy, horror, thrill, and power of flight throughout the 20th century from the Wright brothers to the space station. Eloquent in stripping bare the essence of the human experience of leaving our Earth to soar in the atmosphere and beyond, Olsen's collection of aerospace poetry is a delightful balm to the human spirit, evoking adventure, discovery, tragedy, and accomplishment.“—Roger Launius, chair, Division of Space History, National Air and Space Museum

Diane Ackerman, Sherman Alexie, Billy Collins, Hart Crane, James Dickey, Rita Dove, Amelia Earheart, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Archibald MacLeish, W. S. Merwin, Ogden Nash, Howard Nemerov, Simon J. Ortiz, Carl Sandburg, Anne Sexton, John Updike, and William Carlos Williams.

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Publication Details

Publication Date
Pages, art, trim size
250 pages, 6 x 9 inches