Posted by: John Looker | 11 March, 2012

GAME

GAME

The hare in the grass –
with all round vision,
radar antennae
for ears scanning
and scanning
the no-man’s land,
and nostrils clicking
decoding the air –
eats fast.

(On the Great Plains an arrow begins its parabolic flight;
a boomerang in the Outback defines a curve.) 

Downwind, a blur
and silent, the man
is tense as a hawser
from toe to shotgun,
fatigue forgotten,
seeing nothing
nothing but a few
square inches
of warm fur. 

(Equatorial Forest – and a spear, or a dart, neatly transposes a point;
harpoons join A to B over the Arctic sea.) 

A bruising jerk
as the gun recoils,
and the man runs
stops
runs again
and kills
with a hand all bone
to the bone
of the back of the neck.
Job done. Good work.

   

© John Stevens 2012

This is the second poem in a series looking at human life through work. For the first – WORK (a noun) – see the previous post, below.

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Responses

  1. Hi John
    This poem has much reality in it. Although I am not fond of hunting, I know man all around the world has always hunted, ‘work’ in the real essence of the word. You decribed so well here how the killing business takes place.
    🙂
    I don’t understand how they can kill beautiful creatures, if not driven by hunger, though! The title – Game – tells me it is not just for the food men hunt!

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    • Many thanks for reading this, Ina, and for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate that.
      You seem to have started a discussion immediately, with a comment that goes straight to the heart of the subject matter (as straight as an arrow maybe?!). Thank you.

      Like

  2. I am intrigued by what you are up to, John, taking a look at work from different perspectives and times, eventually building up a portrait of humanity in the process. The key lines of this poem, to me, are:
    …kills
    with a hand all bone
    to the bone
    of the back of the neck.
    In the hunt, at least from an older sense than the modern one where Ina’s perspective makes sense, the bone in the hunter’s hand pulls the trigger or the bow or holds the blow gun. From there the projectile enters the rabbit’s neck bone, shattering its life. In this death there is a direct relationship between the human bone and the rabbit bone. In the end the rabbit’s flesh, the meat, feeds human bone, strengthening the hunter’s life.
    Since I come from the old West of the United States, where hunting was part of the culture, Ina’s comment about the title, Game, startled me. Why do we call it game? There are surely implications that hunting has always meant more than just survival. I’ve never thought of that before.
    This relates back to the first poem in the series, WORK (a noun) in that the farmer in that poem, living in today’s England, finds a projectile from the past in his field, and the past comes into the present as he throws it into the field, tying the world of computers together with the world of the hunter, the line of time connecting moments backward and forward into a continuum of connection.
    This poem, with its prose asides about the implements used by hunters in their work in different places, illuminates that moment of connection in the deep past. Bone to bone, the hunter after
    …a few
    square inches
    of warm fur,
    feeling the satisfaction of a job well done.
    This is a really good idea for a series. I hope it continues.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful response Tom. I’m pleased that the link with the preceding poem strikes you, and for me there is also a link to the next, still in process of emerging. And that link to the deep past that you mention was certainly in my own mind too.
      I have plans for this series, so long as it ‘works’ for people, but I shall have to see how that goes.

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  3. Good work indeed. The inner form — object, subjective object, transcendence (not only death but “good” work, the ethical dimension clear) — do you see the inner form there, John? Aside from the stylistic things — the compact, efficient line, the interesting breaking of the frame through parentheses (this gives a metaxological dimensionality to the poem), the lean line miming the action — the inner form carries the reader through the meditative steps that answer a number of questions, including the one Ina so thoughtfully raised. The answer, that this is a “good” kill, will not satisfy her question, and in that sense the poem becomes part of a community seeking the good life: SEEKING it together. Peacefully.

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    • It’s very generous of you, Tom, to give my poem this careful reading and critique – and thank you for your kind remarks about the stylistic things. I’m very interested in your ideas about ‘inner form’ – as you know from our exchanges on your own blog – and will get back to you there once I’ve pondered a bit more. All the best.

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  4. I remember John the days when my father kept ferrets and was that man with the shotgun.
    The rabbits he shot, considering Ina’s point, were always for the pot – at least the way I remember it.
    Although I never particularly liked rabbit and there was something disturbing about finding pellets in your meat.

    David

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    • I have no experience of ferrets, David, and very little of shooting or hunting, but in fact this poem did draw on a memory of going out with a friend who had a shotgun many years ago. He was very much the country lad and won medals at both shooting and fishing. He shot the hare, I carried it back, and we had a casserole which fed two families. It was an interesting experience, and an unusual one for a townie like me.

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  5. This poem repays revisiting! I just noticed how neat the line is between the ambiguity of title and the last word — Game in two senses, one being “game” as in “hunted animal” and the other the polar opposite of “work.” Formally, one can say the poem explores the equivocation of the word “game.” Finally it transcends the equivocation metaxologically by seeing the “goodness” or ethical aspect of the topic. And even that “resolution” teeters and opens up on more equivocation, which inspires communication, as in our comments!

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    • I was trying to juggle with those ideas, Tom, so I’m childishly delighted that they’ve come alive for you and others. And greatly flattered that you revisited the poem.

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  6. Great work John. My father and one of my
    brothers are hunters. I gave it up
    about the age of 16. I keep chickens,
    And I can’t even bring myself to put
    them in the stewpot, so I just keep a
    couple for the eggs. If I get the farm
    I’ve always dreamed of, I might change
    my mind.

    Like

    • My grandparents kept chickens years ago – mainly for the eggs but not only for that. They lived at the time in a deeply rural part of England and I think Town and Country generally look on hunting and raising chickens and animals in rather different ways!

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  7. This, and the previous related poem, spark off all kinds of connections between the past and the present; how humans remain basically the same over time, yet in other ways are so different now; the contrast between the vast expanses of the Great Plains and the Arctic sea and ‘seeing nothing but a few square inches of warm fur’. I very much hope that you continue this fascinating series, John.

    Like

    • Thank you very much for your encouragement, BH. I have the next piece made but it needs to stand around in oak casks for a while.

      Like

  8. A deeply thought provoking series you’re developing here John. You’ve obviously put a great depth of research and thought into this. Reading the reponses from your readers has been fascinating and eye opening for me too.
    I noticed the link between the hare in this piece and the skinning of the hare in the first. Perhaps the Hare is symbolic of the unfying goal underpinning the gendered roles? I need to give this more thought. This is the kind of work that promises reward for thought.

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    • I’m grateful to you Brad. Yes, the hare was a deliberate link but I’m not sure how much it meant.
      Actually the responses to these poems have been a real stimulus to me and are keeping me ‘on my toes’. I’m learning from the feedback.

      Like

  9. “from toe to shotgun,
    fatigue forgotten,
    seeing nothing
    nothing ”
    I like the repetition…and its an interesting idea, to explore this topic…
    Im intrigued.

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  10. ‘Game’ is one complex word, isn’t it? It seems you can use it to insult (just playing games) or praise (on your game, old boy), and one man’s game could well be someone else’s work. It’s been a long time since I read Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, but it seems relevant. How much of our culture is play? And when we are playing, are we necessarily playing a game?
    And then there is Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations asking ‘what is a game’ in preparation for telling us about a ‘language game’. (See section 66) Is he playing with us? What is his game anyway?
    Neither hare nor hunter seem to be having fun in this poem. The game in the title seems far removed from their thoughts; it is more like a philosophical game; one they are playing without knowing it—more what the old Hindu philosophers meant when they talked of the play of maya, or maybe like Leopold Bloom and Stephen Deadalus as they walked around Dublin reenacting the Odyssey without a thought about that ancient tale.
    Hunting is a basic and primeval activity. Ina does get to the heart of the issue, doesn’t she? Or does she? Is beauty really a good enough reason not to kill?
    Robert E Lee’s thought about war might be worth mentioning here, I think:
    ‘It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it.’
    (Did you know it was Lee who said this? I would have said Sherman.)
    The man is tense as a hawser. Moored, but to what? The tide may be turning. After all, if you kill you probably have a pretty keen awareness that you can be killed.
    As this poem says: ‘a boomerang in the Outback defines a curve’.
    This is a thought provoking poem indeed. Nice job, John.
    Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.

    Like

    • Hi extrasimile

      I could state every creature is beautiful on it’s own, and in it’s own right to be more than an “it”, a subject to be killed for fun.

      Anyway, beauty or not probably doesn’t make a difference to the gamers, when the game is killing, as to them the beauty is in the act more than in what is de-activated. All is in the eyes of the beholder, right. And killing an ugly creature for the fun of it rather than to have a meal
      (but I just stated I am not sure there are such ugly creatures? ) would be just as sad. Just my opinion. I also know hunting is of good use to euthanize animals in need. But then it is no game anymore.

      Ina

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      • Ina—
        First, let me apologize. I was shooting from the hip (and in my own way, hunting for fun?). The most succinct formulation of this issue of our cruelty I know of is from a Wallace Stevens poem:
        From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
        That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
        And hard it is in spite of blazoned days.

        …that we live in a place that’s not our own…
        Do we really? Why do we? And do we have to ‘own’ something before we can respect and take care if it? What could it possibly mean, to own the world?
        And much more, not ourselves…
        How has it come about that we have come to be so alien to the world? How has it come about that we have come to think of it that way? That there is an ‘inside’ (my self) and an ‘outside’ (the world), that there is a division in the world that corresponds to the body/ mind distinction, is easily refuted by standing on a cliff and letting the wind blow on your face: we are not peering out at the world inside our armor, we are in the world. The world is our lover, the world is our self.
        (See Johanna Macy’s book, ‘The World as lover, the World as Self’ for more on this.)
        For Stevens the ‘poem’ is a way out of this evil destructive being-in-the-world…but this poem is a difficult one to articulate. I’m not entirely sure that Stevens had it completely thought out—no, I am sure he didn’t. This may be why he wrote such great poetry late in life.
        I won’t quibble over the beautiful question. I see your point. I agree with it.
        But there are a lot of issues tied up in this—and I have to go to work. Problems like how do we get our identity? How do we stop this ceaseless cause and effect (and I suggest, needless) suffering?
        The old song (from South Pacific?) ‘You have to be taught’ would be worth listening to here, I think.
        When the future Buddha was taken out of his garden—the first step in his enlightenment process—he was shown and old dying man. ‘This thou art,’ he was told. This thou art.
        I will close again with—
        Shantih. Shantih. Shantih.
        Jim

        Like

    • Thank you for these two thoughtful comments Jim.
      Taking up your starting point, yes, I like the way you point out several different ambiguities about the meaning of the word ‘game’ – I had not seen all of these myself. There was however a deliberate pun in the choice of title, in a poem about a ubiquitous and primeval form of work.
      I’m very glad that Ina has prompted this ethical discussion too.
      And – once again – you are sending me racing off to look up Wallace Stevens’ poems. After that I’d better check out South Pacific!

      Like

  11. I enjoyed reading “Game” and enjoyed being aware of all that it stirred in me. I’ve also appreciated all the philosophical discussions below. Enriching. “Seeing nothing/nothing but a few/square inches/of warm fur” is my favourite line because I keep pondering the “warmth”. The hunter sees the warmth, the life in the hare, before he kills it and feels its bones.

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  12. Once again, you have looked at something from afar, as if from the eyes of angels or scientific/philosophic observers, offering a world picture. Showing the relationship of hunter to hunted; the title suggesting a very serious subject in a light way, yet still, a very basic need of man – to feed his own and to win the game. Who-what is the game is nicely played as well, whether hunted game or sport game. Your poetry has fascinating layers of depth.

    Like


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