Rural Fence

Order against the jumbled
Cedar, birch or
Hawthorn branches

Even when a post cants
Off true, wires sag
Or horizontal boards droop

A fence maintains an utter contrast
To the scramble of leaves and twigs
Which sway and shift

While the fence offers
A braced

And in winter
When only the post-tops
And uppermost strands or rails

Hoist their chins above waves of snow
Heaving toward them
Or when the meadow seems boundless

Except for the low mounds where the shoreline
Once was, the persistence of fencing
—Nearly lost—

Speaks of another season, of
Fence as seed
Of mullein, daisy, bunchgrass

—Our handiwork become natural
This perimeter we
Construct and mend

To testify
Compel acquiescence

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Rural Fence”?

“Rural Fence” occurred because of the contrast I continue to marvel at between the natural world’s apparent unruliness and the way in the country we try to make the land seem more orderly by—among other things—building and maintaining fences. In fact, the natural world is very ordered, but it doesn’t display an external appearance that matches the human sense of a well-organized and -run enterprise. In winter in the part of B.C. where I live when I’m not away working, we get an awful lot of snow, sometimes nearly covering the barbed-wire fences around our properties. In the poem I note that when the fence is covered or nearly covered by snow, it resembles the seeds or bulbs out of sight now in the frozen ground that in spring will produce plants that will stand upright—just as the fence will emerge out of the melting snow and resume its function in the world.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Rural Fence”?

“Rural Fence” employs a stricter form than many of my free verse poems, which makes sense since this poem is about the imposition of form (a fence) on wildness (the natural world). The poem is in three-line stanzas, sometimes called tercets or triplets, and the first letter of each line is capitalized, which was an old way of showing that what one is reading is a poem and not prose. To emphasize that the form of the poem is imposed on wildness, no punctuation is used except the dash. The poem is descriptive rather than metaphoric. The fence in winter is referred to as a seed in the eighth stanza, but that’s really the only metaphor.

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