Monday, May 9, 2011

Cameron Scott's "Evening Hatch"

Finally, after weeks and weeks of trying to write this little quixplication of Cameron Scott's "Evening Hatch" from the The Fly Fish Journal, I've managed to actually complete the task.  Not enough time in the day lately, it seems -- but I'm very happy to have finally jotted down a few words about Cam Scott's poem.  Scott's a friend of mine from the University of Arizona's MFA program.  Every now and then we run into each over the internet and strike up a little conversation.  So -- it's a pleasure to have noticed this poem floating around out there in hyperspace.

"Evening Hatch" is a 3 stanza, first person narrative about a father who sneaks away from his daughter's wedding reception to do a little fly fishing at a nearby river -- the river's within walking distance, close enough to the gala for him to hear "the clink / of glasses as the bride and groom move between tables."  The father is noticeably at home at the river, inferrably uncomfortable at the reception although by the poem's end, when "The world tastes like honey," he's at ease.  It's very much a poem in three parts with each stanza serving a new purpose as we read about the father's comfort at the river and equal discomfort at the reception.

Scott controls this tension and release with his poem's music.  Though the poem isn't metrical per se, it does rely heavily on the iamb to create a controlled, flowing pace and mood.  Much of the first stanza, set entirely at the river, has the iamb as its predominant foot, and its last line is perfect iambic hexameter: "And yes, my shoes, submerged, will smell all year of mud."  The effect is pleasing . . . relaxed.  Because it's been with us now for hundreds of years in one form (no pun intended) or another, the iamb continues to sit easily in the ear.  Too much of it I personally shun (because it's too often done poorly), but a line here and there I find very welcome.  It makes a poem, as it does with the opening stanza of "Evening Hatch," musical and familiar.  Although Scott's poem is not strictly metrical, its play with meter helps lull the reader's ear, just as the river lulls the father-speaker of the poem.

However, Scott opens the second stanza with a rhythmic rat-a-tat: "But here I am anyway . . ."  That dactyl "anyway" throws the rhythm off immediately, and what follows is a bit freer language in terms of rhythmic pattern.  This is accompanied with a shift in imagery.  In the first stanza, we are with the father at the river; in the second stanza, we are placed at the reception, hearing "the clink / of glasses as the bride and groom move between tables."  Although the imagery in the second stanza does eventually return to the river, it never quite gets its rhythmic feet under it -- close, but not quite.  Nor does the father recapture the calm that pervades him in the first stanza when he is physically and mentally at the river simultaneously.  Throughout the second, he occupies two separate spaces: the river where is "casting at dusk" and the reception where "the bride and groom move between tables."

The third and final stanza shifts from arhythmic to rhythmic language as the father physically returns to the reception for the father-daughter dance.  This more or less happens in the third to last line, but takes the rest of the poem to completely satisfy: "as I walk in wet shoes across the room, as if I were tracking flour / from a broken pantry door.  Someone slaps me on the the back.  / My cuffs, unrolled now.  The world tastes like honey."  It seems to me the rhythmic shift back to pattern and flow matches the father's acceptance (that may not be quite right) of his daughter's marriage, of their simultaneous passage into another phase of their lives as marked by the ritual of marriage.  There's a definite sense of tension and release here.  Where the second stanza acted as a disruption of the first's seemingly natural flow, the third stanza recaptures that flow.

The imagery in Scott's "Evening Hatch" does well to hit all five senses, which is great since much of this poem has to do with the outdoors and the comfort the father finds there.  Part of the picture is tactile -- pant-leg bottoms "wet with river water," a "silk tie" -- part of the picture is aural -- "the clink of glasses," "the wandering edge of riffle" -- part is gustatory -- "the taste of honey" -- and much is visual -- "trouser cuffs rolled up," "the branches of a downed tree."  Certain images speak directly to the olfactory sense, too: "my shoes. . .will smell all year of mud" and "the towering cottonwoods" and "the spruce."  The father-speaker of the poem is completely immersed in the natural world for these brief moments of fly fishing at the river while in the distance his daughter's wedding reception carries on.  For awhile, as much as he feels at peace at the river, he seems at odds with the wedding.  But, fishing the "Evening Hatch" helps him come to terms with this life changing event.  By the poem's end, as "someone slaps me on the back," the father is returned to the reception where he claims, "The world tastes like honey."  All is well.  All was a bit discordant, but now all is well.

Cameron Scott's "Evening Hatch" borders on the sentimental perhaps, but its play with sound and picture keep it from completely giving into it.  It's an interesting demonstration of how a person can be in two places at once, then reconvene better off than he was before.

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