Bedford Social

Firewood’s sixty-five dollars a cord:
but, these woods and I work for ourselves
and each other, though it’s hard to see
what good I do it, aside from letting it be.

In rippling water a tube of grey mesh flexes:
a cast-off snake skin: the jaws open and close.
High on young wings, a raven yawps,
maybe the one we rescued, cooped in a crevice,

too stooped to fly, the rock stained with days of pings,
weakening, starving, stuck. How real it felt,
rowing him to safe haven, perched on a paddle blade,
his smart, bright eye: “A rich, full life. . . .”

You, reader, must be wondering,
“How do the woods work for him?” Think of the raven
transported farther from hell, by what might kill him
but acts like love. Trust? I’m safe so far.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Bedford Social”?

“Bedford Social” came from an incident which is in the poem, of rescuing a young raven which was at risk of dying. This fed into the idea of cooperating with wild nature, with helping it to survive, and of wondering exactly how it helps us to live.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Bedford Social”?

I’ve been writing so long that the poetic techniques I use come to me without giving them much conscious thought at all. It’s like playing hockey: after you’ve played for a while, you don’t have to think about when to pass the puck: you just know, and you do it. You’ve made that knowledge, that technique, a part of you. In “Galactic Dynamics” I use internal rhyme in line 4: we’re, here, cheer. In “Person of Snow” I use the line endings to control the speed you read at: the second line ends in the middle of a phrase, so your eye hurries on to see what “those” will refer to in the next line; line six ends with the end of a sentence, very final, very emphatic. In “Bedford Social” I use end rhyme in lines three and four, as well as a five beats to each line, to give them a satisfying regularity and solidity. You can see this tactic in Robert Frost’s masterpiece, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” where he also uses another technique which I find very important to remember: use short words. The whole poem becomes much more powerful if you use as many short simple words as possible. A poem is a machine made of words, and its purpose is to carry emotion. Emotion is carried much better by short words than by long ones. Which sounds better: “The person who is addressing you has formed a deep emotional attachment to you,” or “I love you?”

This poem “Bedford Social” originally appeared in Writers Talking. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 183 (Winter 2004): 28-28.

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