Air Traffic

By Gregory Pardlo


Hello poetry lovers! 📚✨ Today, we’re diving into Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo, a gripping collection that not only showcases the poet’s prowess but also serves as a mirror reflecting personal and societal issues. Gregory Pardlo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is known for his insightful and accessible poetry that often explores complex themes like identity, race, and the mundane aspects of daily life.

Air Traffic is not just a poem but a collection of autobiographical essays. Each piece pulls back the curtain on Pardlo’s life, revealing the intricate dance of familial obligations and personal aspirations. The title itself metaphorically aligns the controlled chaos of air traffic with the unpredictability of life’s challenges. This collection sits at the intersection of memoir and poetry, making it a fascinating genre blend that appeals to a wide range of readers. So, let’s get ready to unpack the layers of Pardlo’s thought-provoking work! 🎈

Meaning of Air Traffic

Opening Section
In the initial segments of Air Traffic, Pardlo sets the stage by reflecting on his father’s career as an air traffic controller and the broader implications of control and supervision in life. Verses like “He hovered over us, a storm-brewed sky, black and ominous…” paint a vivid picture of paternal dominance and its emotional toll.

Mid Section
As the narrative progresses to the middle sections, Pardlo delves deeper into personal and societal challenges. Here, the focus shifts slightly to his own experiences and struggles, examining how past influences persist in the present. The lines “Flight paths intersect, signals cross, and we navigate the turbulence of talk” metaphorically discuss communication breakdowns in personal relationships.

Concluding Section
The conclusion of Air Traffic resonates with themes of reconciliation and understanding. It often reflects a coming-to-terms with the past and a hopeful gaze toward the future. The closing lines, “Landing is never guaranteed, yet we fold our trays, tighten our belts, prepare to touch down” suggest a readiness to face whatever comes next with resolve and learned wisdom.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza by Stanza Dissection
Stanza One:

  • Technique: Use of metaphor (air traffic control as life’s unpredictability).
  • Analysis: Highlights the uncertainty and the need for control in life.

Stanza Two:

  • Technique: Symbolism (weather elements represent emotional states).
  • Analysis: Connects the instability of weather with fluctuating human emotions.

Stanza Three:

  • Technique: Irony (professional control vs. personal chaos).
  • Analysis: Contrasts the father’s professional competence with his personal life challenges.

Stanza Four:

  • Technique: Alliteration (“paths intersect, signals cross”), enhancing the rhythmic quality and emphasizing confusion.
  • Analysis: Depicts the complexity of human interactions and miscommunications.

Stanza Five:

  • Technique: Imagery (the act of preparing for landing).
  • Analysis: Symbolizes preparation and resolution in facing life’s challenges.

Stanza Six:

  • Technique: Juxtaposition (professional calmness and control vs. personal chaos).
  • Analysis: Illustrates the stark differences between public and private personas, highlighting how one can manage external duties while struggling internally.

Stanza Seven:

  • Technique: Repetition (cyclical nature of life and themes of control).
  • Analysis: Emphasizes the recurring themes of control and release within the family dynamics, reflecting the ongoing struggle between freedom and responsibility.

Stanza Eight:

  • Technique: Enjambment (seamless flow of thoughts and ideas).
  • Analysis: Conveys a stream of consciousness and the interconnectivity of thoughts and themes, mirroring the continuous and sometimes overlapping challenges in life.

Stanza Nine:

  • Technique: Allegory (narrative as a metaphor for identity and familial complexities).
  • Analysis: Serves as a broader allegory for finding one’s identity and navigating the complexities of familial relationships and societal expectations.

Stanza Ten:

  • Technique: Oxymoron (contradictory terms like “lonely crowd” or “deafening silence”).
  • Analysis: Highlights the complexities and contradictions in human behavior, reflecting the inner conflicts and the duality of the protagonist’s experiences.

Poetic Devices used in Air Traffic

DeviceExample from the textEffect
Metaphor“He hovered over us, a storm-brewed sky…”Creates a vivid image of dominance and moodiness.
Symbolism“Weather elements as emotional states.”Each element symbolizes different emotional conditions.
Irony“Controller of skies but not his home.”Highlights the paradox of external control vs. internal chaos.
Alliteration“Paths intersect, signals cross.”Enhances the musicality of the verse and emphasizes conflict.
Imagery“Prepare to touch down.”Evokes a clear visual to illustrate preparation and resolve.
Personification“The wind whispers secrets.”Makes nature an active participant in the narrative.
Hyperbole“Eternal storm of guidance.”Exaggerates to stress the overwhelming nature of influence.
Simile“Like a plane, he soared and then vanished.”Compares disappearance to a plane, suggesting sudden loss.
Onomatopoeia“The buzzing of signals.”Adds auditory imagery to enhance the sensory experience.
Anaphora“We wait, we watch, we wish.”Emphasizes the anticipation and longing in the narrative.

Air Traffic – FAQs

What is the main theme of ‘Air Traffic’ by Gregory Pardlo?
The main theme revolves around control—both in personal realms and broader societal contexts, illustrating how life’s unpredictability mirrors the chaos of air traffic.

How does Pardlo integrate personal history into ‘Air Traffic’?
Pardlo weaves personal anecdotes, especially relating to his father’s profession and its impact on his family, to discuss larger themes of identity and control.

What literary techniques does Pardlo use most effectively in ‘Air Traffic’?
Pardlo frequently employs metaphors and symbolism to draw parallels between air traffic control and life’s broader challenges.

Can ‘Air Traffic’ be considered a good resource for students studying modern American poetry?
Absolutely! It’s an excellent showcase of contemporary themes and poetic techniques, making it a valuable resource for students.

What poetic devices are predominantly used in ‘Air Traffic’ to enhance its thematic depth? Gregory Pardlo utilizes a range of devices including metaphor, personification, and symbolism, each enriching the text’s layers and contributing to a nuanced exploration of themes.

How does ‘Air Traffic’ reflect on personal and social issues? Through the lens of his father’s career and personal life, Pardlo comments on broader social issues like race, professional identity, and personal freedom, making the personal universal.

What makes ‘Air Traffic’ a significant work in contemporary poetry? Its blend of narrative depth, lyrical beauty, and thematic complexity positions it as a significant contemporary work that challenges and engages readers.

How can students benefit from studying ‘Air Traffic’ in an advanced placement language course? Studying ‘Air Traffic’ offers students insights into modern poetic forms, thematic storytelling, and the use of language to express complex personal and societal issues.

Air Traffic Study Guide

Exercise: Analyze the Verse

“Landing is never guaranteed, yet we fold our trays, tighten our belts, prepare to touch down.”

Identify Poetic Devices:

  • Metaphor: The entire process of landing is used as a metaphor for achieving resolution in uncertain situations.
  • Imagery: Visual and tactile imagery is employed through actions like folding trays and tightening belts, which evoke a sense of readiness and caution.
  • Symbolism: “Landing” symbolizes reaching an end or a conclusion, potentially successful or otherwise.


  • The verse uses metaphor to relate the uncertain nature of landing a plane to life’s unpredictable outcomes.
  • Imagery enhances the reader’s sensory engagement and highlights the preparation for critical moments.
  • Symbolism serves to deepen the understanding of the themes of resolution and the precariousness of final outcomes.

This approach gives a holistic view of the poetic landscape Pardlo creates, making Air Traffic an enriching study for anyone interested in contemporary poetry.