Marylin Hacker and the journey of the woman artist

When Marylin Hacker visited Pearl London's class in April of 1980, they spent much of the time discussing Hacker's poem "The Hang-Glider's Daughter." The poem, which looks like free verse but is in fact a series of Petrarchan sonnets, unfolds as the interior monologue of an adolescent girl in the car with her father and sister, on her way to watch her father go hang-gliding.

My forty-year-old father learned to fly.
Bat-winged, with a magic marble fear
keeping his toast down, he walks off a sheer
shaved cliff into the morning. On Sunday
mornings he comes for us. Liane and I
feed the baby and Mario, wash up, clear
the kitchen mess.

The quotidian and the fantastic--doing housework with her sisters, and watching her father take a running jump off a cliff--are inextricably linked throughout the poem.  There is a sense that the marvelous has found a place in day to day life; this miracle of flight occurs every Sunday, after all, and has become just one thing among many to worry and wonder about: "If I forgot French, too, who would I be inside my head?" "How does he feel, suddenly slung from billiant nylon, levering onto air currents like a thinking hawk?" "Did I remind Mario, if the baby cries, he needs to be burped?"

When asked about the metaphorical overtones of the poem, Hacker tells London:

"I don't think that symbols or metaphors can be injected into a poem like pints of fresh blood; they have to grow organically out of the subject...I suppose the hang-glider's daughter and the hang-glider are, just in that limited sense, metaphors for where the woman artist must start out. Which is not jumping off the top of the mountain--or if it is jumping off the top of the mountain, [first] it's rather laboriously climbing one. With all the paraphernalia of ordinary life as gear."

The commingling of ordinary and extraordinary is characteristic of the artist's inner life. It isn't Wordworth's "emotion recollected in tranquility;" it's emotion in constant flux, and poetry coupled to living.  As Hacker discusses with London--and as she shows in "The Hang-gliders Daughter"--poetry doesn't have to bypass the trivialities of life but, rather, can encompass them.