Art and feeling enchant an otherwise dead world: Jennifer Michael Hecht on the poetry of Wallace Stevens

As a break between translations, I often listen to one of the  audio interviews available on the  Poetry Foundation website,  a garden of ideas and reflections in which to meditate before  heading back to the world of commitments and deadlines.

I highly recommend  a recent Poetry Foundation “Off the Shelf” interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht, a marvelous poet who lives in Brooklyn, New York, about the meaning of Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Idea of Order at Key West” in which she shares insights into what Stevens’ poem is all about and asks the question, “What can be made from the real?”

The following poem, also available in the Poetry Foundation’s website, is a nice introduction to Jennifer Michael Hecht’s poetry.

Chicken Pig

by Jennifer Michael Hecht

It’s like being lost
in the forest, hungry, with a
plump live chicken in your cradling
arms: you want to savage the bird,
but you also want the eggs.
You go weak on your legs.
What’s worse, what you need
most is the companionship,
but you’re too hungry to know that.
That is something you only know after
you’ve been lost a lot and always,
eventually, alit upon
your bird; consumed her
before you’d realized what
a friend she’d been, letting you
sleep-in late on the forest floor
though she herself awoke
at the moment of dawn
and thought of long-lost
rooster voices quaking
the golden straw. She
looks over at you, sleeping,
and what can I tell you, she loves
you, but like a friend.
Eventually, when lost
in a forest with a friendly chicken
you make a point of emerging
from the woods together,
triumphant; her, fat with bugs,
you, lean with berries.
Still, while you yet wander,
you can not resist telling her
your joke:
Guy sees a pig with three legs,
asks the farmer, What gives?
Farmer says, That pig woke
my family from a fire, got us all out.
Says the guy, And lost the leg thereby?
Nope, says the farmer,
Still had all four when he took
a bullet for me when I had
my little struggle with the law.
Guy nods, So that’s where
he lost his paw? Farmer shakes
it off, says, Nah, we fixed him up.
A pause, guy says, So how’d he lose
the leg? Farmer says, Well, hell,
a pig like that
you don’t eat all at once.
Chicken squints. Doesn’t think
it’s funny.