A Manifesto of Airport Poetry

Whenever I fly, I think: there are some people who would have us all read airport poetry.

Airport poetry is up-to-date, international (or non-national), and safe, because it has been screened. It is the same everywhere. In fact, it is the one thing that you can count on being the same in unfamiliar places and strange cultures. Like this essay, it can be translated into any major language without serious loss of meaning. It achieves this by being composed in simple, readily apprehensible units that can be reached, one from the other, with ease. Stanzas or strophes are connected by moving walkways, extra-wide lifts, arrows on the floor.

The meaning of airport poetry inheres in the idea or sentiment behind the project, rather than being generated by the language, in the way that a terminal building is meant to express a simple openness and soaring unrestraint at the expense of what might be said in a tricky vernacular.

Beijing New Airport Terminal Building, view 2

Airport poetry looks better from far away than it does up close. It looks better when it is in planning than when it is realised.

Situated somewhere between the city and the country, airport poetry positions itself as a necessary compromise between the two. It is sophisticated but ‘away from it all,’ like a nightclub in a retirement village.

Airport poetry is as clear as a figure of a person in a wheelchair on a toilet door and as optimistic as an illustration of an orderly terminal evacuation.

The writer of airport poetry can have any background, as long as he or she is approved—or soon-to-be-approved—by an establishment, whether local or foreign. The nature of this establishment is not important, only its power to confer legitimacy and public access. Beijing and Brussels both give planning permission.

Beijing New Airport Terminal Building, view 3

Getting into airport poetry is easy if you’ve got the right credentials. It is a frustrating, dispiriting chore if you haven’t got the right credentials.

Anyone doing business (or poetry) in such a setting must achieve the condition of a brand. I would mention the brand names of some poets, but, really, the names aren’t important—only a given brand’s status as universal, clean, convenient, and aspirational.

Unlike a house, a pizzeria, a bowling alley, a boutique, or a pool, an airport does not feel real when you are not in it. The thought ‘I wonder what’s going on at the airport right now’ is impossible. Airport poetry is a literature that allows for presence in it, but no reflection on it.

There are no ‘repeat customers’ at an airport, only people going the same way again. No-one has a pub at an airport as his or her local. The reader of airport poetry is someone passing through on the way to another destination, that destination being: inspiration, an understanding of the world, or a sense of belonging.

Quotation of airport poetry is meaningless, because it always says the same thing: ‘We hope you enjoy your journey.’

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