Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“Home to Roost”




Home to Roost

By Kay Ryan


The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small-
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost — all
the same kind
at the same speed.



We see “chickens” “circling” around and around. Most of the lines have only one or two beats. Are we seeing a tornado of some sort here?

The chickens
are circling and

The first line starts off with an upward movement, with an offbeat, a beat, then an offbeat again, moving the rhythm down. The next line repeats the previous line’s rhythm. But here, two offbeats follow the beat in “CIRcling”. Things get even faster on the next line, the third, with more offbeats, three, following “blot”.

Depending on how you see the first line, “The chickens” could be a single syntactic unit, a subject, making “chickens” stand out more as an end-stop. Or “chickens” could be an enjambement, a run-on, if you feel the line is not complete syntactically until you include a verbal clause, “are circling”.

blotting out the
day. The sun is

The beat is at the fore (BLOTing), with more offbeats after it, three. At the next line this rhythm seems to be repeated, except that the second offbeat is replaced with a beat, at “sun”. So, you have now the first of a two-beat line, with a caesura. After this pause, the offbeat, beat, offbeat rhythm of the new sentence echoes the first line. It is established: you are seeing a “circling”.

bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,

The B in the first two words echoes the B of “blotting”. The next line repeats the pattern of line 3, also establishing a connection to “blotting”.

“the way. Yes,” echoes the pattern of line 4, with a pausing. “way” rhymes with “day”, to point you to the similar patterning, both having a similar full-stop and caesura following them. “again. These”, further down the lines, repeats this patterning, especially that of “the way. Yes,”, for the final time. You’ll also see these lines running shorter and shorter, in word count. Just picture the “circling” chickens against the “bright” sun forming a top-heavy vortex.

the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.

“the sky is dark” pauses or slows the whirling movement. Its regular rhythm (offbeat, beat, offbeat, beat) and the long vowels in the two beats slow things down to make you notice the sky becoming dark and dense with chickens. Because the full-stop punctuation signals an end-stop, “them” receives a little stressing or a beat. “dense” rhymes with “them”, forming a circle.

They turn and
then they turn
again. These

Rhyming abounds, to make the circling motif more patent here, with “turn”, “they”, and lots of TH and T alliteration. “and”, at the end of the line, repeats an earlier “and”, at the end of the second line.

are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small-
various breeds.

Still more rhyming, with “loose” and “roost”; “breeds” and, later, “speed”; and “same”. “chickens” has been repeated four times: from “all” four corners of the world?

Now they have
come home
to roost — all
the same kind
at the same speed.

Offbeats have been utilized for all three words of “Now they have”, if you do not stress “Now”. The speed of that line is then cut so suddenly with “come home”, where there is some near-rhyming. Also, note the sameness in spelling, with c an h (part of the spelling in "chickens") before the repeated "ome". There is practically no offbeats if you read both words with stress. The long vowels and the slowed pace here bring you to "to roost", with a dash and "all". The whirling now finally slows down with the D baulking in long vowels in “kind” and “speed”, foreshadowed by “breeds”, earlier.

Those last four lines sum up the poem. This is about the “various breeds” (races?) of “chickens” (people?), coming “home” (the US?) to “roost” (settle down?), “all” the “same kind” under the “sun”.


-------------

62-year old Fairfax English teacher Kay Ryan is America’s 16th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2008 and 2009.

Kay, a lesbian, took home $100,000 for US’s biggest poetry award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2004. She has a bachelor's and a master's degree from UCLA. Grove Press published her collection Elephant Rocks in 1996. Her new one, New and Selected Poems, will be out in the US this November.

Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry and in Pushcart Prizes anthologies. Her other awards include 2004 Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Award, a 2001 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the 2000 Union League Poetry Prize and the Maurice English Poetry Award.

Visitors to the Central Park Zoo in New York City can see here poem How Birds Sing on top of a retaining wall for children to play on.

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6 Comments:

Blogger bibliobibuli said...

bless you, leon for getting things moving again. i will be back to read more carefully.

8:10 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

This poem looks deceptively simple, but it is actually very accomplished technically. That's why I have gone all out to show readers that.

9:56 AM, July 31, 2008  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

I am really intrigued by this poem. Read it a few times, and marveled at its fine technical control. The 'chickens' however stumped me... but this is what makes the poem so interesting. The choice of 'chicken's opens up a whole range of possibilities for me, and somehow I feel it is not meant to be 'interpreted', pined down like a dead object... perhaps, this is because I just read Deleuze and Guattari's book on Kafka, haha.

Anyway, I still would like to venture in what 'chickens' might be. For me, 'chickens' could well be metaphorical for a mix of emotions that one has either developed or 'reared' at one time or another, but has since let go, before they have come back all together, in numbers, bringing about the darkening and growing 'weather' turmoil.

Moreover, 'chickens' could even be refer to 'children' who have now come home to roost... but this may too much of a stretch... Or.. clouds in their various 'breed' all coming together...after all, clouds in their puffed up fluffiness look like chickens, haha, my imagination.

Thanks Leon

4:11 PM, August 02, 2008  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

'Chickens' as emotions or children. That' an idea. You never know, really, because it's up to the reader to interpret whichever they like.

9:38 AM, August 03, 2008  
Blogger msiagirl said...

Anything coming home to roost sounds ominous doesn't it? I think it is like one's actions, or a country's actions. Like Karma ;). I like the picture you have chosen to illustrate this poem - a tornado seems just right for it... a tornado of chickens! I've read Elephant Rocks and she seems extremely sharp and succinct, no doubt every word counts here.

8:31 PM, August 24, 2008  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

The poem looks and sounds so simple and straghtforward, doesn't it? but so deep, and, yes, every word here counts.

9:26 AM, August 25, 2008  

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