May 31, 2012

David Wagoner's "To the Farmer," Continued



To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire by David Wagoner : The Poetry Foundation

Here are some responses to visitors' comments last time.

Rune, yes, I hear the quiet. And the reversal you speak of. To me, it’s haunting.

Jean, thanks. I like it too, though I doubt it’s sharp enough. It was a lucky shot, and I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did, with the colors and textures, foreground and background.

And Jean, “elegant protest letter,” yes. But I wonder if the speaker has any thought of delivering it. He might get shot. That’s what I don’t like about the inevitable weakness (word choice?) of his position. And that ties into AH and Brenda’s points.

About AH’s point and quotation, which might be easy to gloss over—the farmer’s “strange appetites” and “funny quickenings,” which are not spoken to “the wife.”

I hear the speaker thinking of the farmer as a loose cannon (word play intended) in a number of ways. Maybe we’re to hear that the dead hawks are not merely a murderous display, but also a perversion, one of several perversions for Gunshot Guy. 

So, Jean, I wonder if the speaker would dare to deliver an actual letter to such a guy.


And all that is now making me wonder, even more than I was, if the poem is a character study of the speaker as much as the farmer. That in turn that might lead back to Rune’s point—taking the longer, broader view, the poem might be about more than these two guys. Maybe it’s a comment on two elements in human nature, the aggressor and the moral but silent (passive? frustrated? helpless? cowardly?) observer. 
Yellow-rumped Warbler
I wish I could feel more authorial control over that from Wagoner.  One old, old rule has always made perfect sense to me:  we must never mistake the author for a speaker or narrator. But I think this poem needs to make clearer that it’s about two kinds of human and the complications involved therein. I don’t feel Wagoner’s control over that; it’s too easy to assume he’s the speaker, when we need to feel him holding up both speaker and farmer for our study.  If there’s no difference between Wagoner and his speaker, then the poem really is an impotent tantrum. Moral and creative, yes, but in the end, an ineffectual rant.

So, Brenda, “bottled up” is key. Is it only the speaker who’s bottled up, or is it the author and therefore the whole poem as well? Your paradox of “by doing nothing, something is done”—could you explain that further?  The speaker has exposed the farmer even if he hasn’t stopped him, and that amounts to “something is done”? And dreaming of revenge is a higher road than actually, physically taking revenge? I think those ideas are promising, but intricate. Am I anywhere close to paraphrasing you accurately?

If I put together what all the visitors are saying with what I was saying, does it amount to the point that exposing corruption is often all we can do without becoming another corrupt psycho-aggressor ourselves? Morality is hamstrung by the necessary avoidance of fighting fire with fire?  We hand that job over to our professional warriors?

Does all this tie into a Zen approach or a Christian turning of the other cheek? And does Wagoner’s birthing of these ponderings mean the poem is excellent in spite of what might be its limitations?

 To a Farmer Who Hung Five Hawks on His Barbed Wire by David Wagoner : The Poetry Foundation

12 comments:

Brenda's Arizona said...

Yep, you are paraphrasing me well.
I hate the 'do nothing equates to something' because revenge doesn't feel extracted in a timely fashion. Especially in this case.

So WHY is the farmer hanging the hawks? I just can't grasp the 'why'. Is he showing off? Is he warning off other hawks by saying "This is what happens if you cross near here"? Is he just a jerk?

The author exposes the farmer. Your last paragraph questions how to seek revenge without being corrupt or an looking worse than the farmer. Expose the author, then quickly turn the other cheek. Maybe the farmer is begging for someone to take him on... and the author is denying the farmer that pleasure.

Is this an awful/graphic lesson in turning the other cheek??? I ditto your question.

Jean Spitzer said...

I didn't really mean that he trotted over with a copy of his poem. More that he believed that publishing the poem would expose his neighbor. The mighty pen. Sort of a muck-raking poet, I guess.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, your possibilities are really interesting and promising. And both you and Jean are in a similar place about "muck-raking poets"--who merits a higher place in the human hierarchy than those muck-rakers, the poets?

I showed Wagoner's poem to a friend the other day, and she was freaked out because she'd just seen a bunch of dead squirrels nailed to fence posts near Ann Arbor. Apparently it's a thing some people do, I suppose to act as a scarecrow to other varmints. Wonder if it works.

Banjo52 said...

Or just feels good.

Brenda's Arizona said...

And how many steps away to the display of Matthew Shephard? Isn't 'display' or making him a scarecrow supposed to scare 'like' others from hanging around???

Ya know, doing nothing is exactly that when the offender doesn't think he has offended. But doing nothing is a mighty tool when the offender is awaiting your reaction - and your reaction is to walk away...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"doing nothing is a mighty tool when the offender is awaiting your reaction - and your reaction is to walk away..." it's what your momma told you.

I just saw the film Muhammad Ali with Will Smith. Theres a scene where Ali approaches Foremen with his usual banter and Forman says nothing. In that moment you can see (Will Smith's ) Ali deflate

Banjo52 said...

I think my own experience says walking away works best most of the time, but there are those few hardcore cases who just keeping hanging hawks and squirrels. What if they hang them at MY ranch . . . ? Over and over.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

You can shoot them if they set foot on your ranch. Trust me, we are not opposed to fighting back. Calling the police, verbal confrontations or jumping in the middle of a fight. When you live with Mr V, it's par for the course - ask the hiker, she'll back me on this....

reminder Hiker; girl gang initiation over at Farnsdale Park - rescued goose - neighbors from hell

Carole said...

Thanks for stopping by Carole's Chatter. Hope you have a good week.

Ken Mac said...

oh, those camera dogs!

Paula said...

I think I'll muddy the waters even further by saying that it's illegal to kill most native birds and that this farmer is probably flaunting the law.

Taking that a little further, a lot of my Facebook feed, and one of the reasons I spend time there, is about the No Kill Philosophy which espouses that companion animals never be euthanized and by proxy, promotes humane treatment of all animals. The narrator reminds me of a lot of people who have taken a stand towards more humane treatment overall. And it isn't just one voice, but many, all contributing to a change in thinking about our relationship with animals. I felt he was deep into the paradoxical struggle that people have when dealing with wanton violence. Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes:

How you treat those who can do nothing for you is the judge of your character. ...

I think sometimes you have to suffer a loss of one kind to keep from losing your soul.

Banjo52 said...

PA, how about pepper spray?

Ken, they were almost as entertaining as the birds (the photo is at Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio).

Paula, thanks for that. It's substantial. Yes, I think you and most of us would be more on the side of the speaker than the farmer, though for full disclosure, I think we all have should have a right to exit as and when we choose. So maybe we're not in the same camp after all? And of course, it's a problem that animals usually can't articulate their choice, elephants and some cats excepted.

I like your final two lines too.

Lovers' Lane