Jan 22, 2011

Anthony Hecht, "Birdwatchers of America": Classical Technique for Gothic Content

Beaks, Stalkers, Buzzards
: Black-crowned Night Heron, Immature (I think. Please correct me if I mis-identify); Great Egret, stalking; below, Turkey Vulture, "ghosted" by over-exposing a bit.

Birdwatchers of America by Anthony Hecht : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

Though a minor leaguer, I’m a birder of some kind, so I thought I’d post this poem by Anthony Hecht as a gesture toward my open-mindedness and the not-so-Romantic sense of realism with which I try to maintain some contact.

Hecht is known as quite the traditionalist with regard to rhyme and meter and erudition. That can be impressive, but it can also be off-putting, cold, distant, or superior in the bad way. That might account for my struggle with the opening stanza, which I find difficult—not exactly impenetrable, but unwelcoming, its logic a little hard to follow, its necessity in the poem questionable.

But the second stanza picks up in clarity and appeal, and the third really brings things home with a vengeance in its knockout turn in the last few lines. So much for purty birdies, fuzzy puppies, and free popcorn.

(Try not to be confused by the layout at the beginning; the epigraph by Baudelaire bleeds into Hecht's title, an unusual formatting problem for Poetry Foundation).

Birdwatchers of America by Anthony Hecht : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.



Brenda's Arizona said...

Oh my, the last stanza does have a knockout punch. It had to be birds, didn't it?

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I rather enjoyed the dark ending here. I've been lately thinking about birds. Between you, Brenda and our local skies, I see a lot of them. And it occurred to me that I don't embrace them fully. Similar to how I feel about monkeys. Furthermore, there are far to many poems where birds make an appearance. I get the poetic why, but It may be my own bias, based on the idea that I never get to see/hold birds unless they've dropped out of the sky or nest. Not exactly the what Anthony Hecht was going for, but I appreciate the "gothic content"

off to a poetry reading

Anonymous said...

I miss rhymes. And these seemed to climb, catch the air, soar, hover, and land. Maybe?

gothpunkuncle said...

We need some new tools, some words that go beyond "Dark" or "Gothic." There's just too damn many ways to be sinister in this big ol' world. I'm heading off to class, but will come back and re-read the Hecht. I want more. This well selected post has helped me pay attention where I've just brushed over A.H. in anthologies . . . The blogger's "gift" to his readers? Damn Straight.

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, you four. I intend to say more (GPU, your check is in the mail), but I'm pressed for time right now. PA, hope you enjoyed the poetry reading more than I usually enjoy them. More on that later if you'll remind me. AH, ditto that about rhyme, in this poem and in general. It can do wonders.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

no worries

the reading was enjoyable. mix of serious and humor. went for a local hike afterward and then dinner. nice day, nice night

hope your doing something you like

Jean Spitzer said...

Not my favorite, just to read to myself (I've tried it a few times); maybe I would have liked it better read by its author.

Ken Mac said...

i like that word, buzzards. Says it all.

Banjo52 said...

PA, that's a pretty compelling statement: "I never get to see/hold birds unless they've dropped out of the sky or nest." Subject for a post of your own? I think maybe the poem is primarily about mortality and the way we romanticize things. The corpse with his eyes pecked out was probably as romanticized as the birds doing the pecking.

Ken, isn't there an amazing difference between the casual "buzzard" and the formal name, "vulture"? Kinda like the naked and the nude, don't you think?

Rune Eide said...

That photo was not by any minor leaguer - it matched the poetry very well (and far beyond my capabilities).

Thank you for the nice comments!

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