Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “Mating Season,” by Andrena Zawinski

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

The writer of “Mating Season” tells me that it “is one of those poems that appears like an unexpected gift that only needs to be accepted, in this case written down.” In the poem, the speaker witnesses an act in nature—ducks mating—that becomes the point of departure for an idea and the poem. The so-called “Nature Poem” has origins in the pastoral tradition and in the Eclogues of Virgil. A genre of poetry familiar to most readers, nature poetry has grown more challenging and controversial in our compromised and damaged natural world. Just as some people believe we are past the point of no return in saving our environment, some poets also believe that the nature poem is dead. But there are still ducks and ponds and sunsets, and until they are gone there will be poets observing them and musing over their greater meaning.

When the speaker notices the ducks’ mating behavior, which to her seems brutish, other things happening on the beach fade into the background. Andrena Zawinski says that when the hen “. . .rakes / the ribs of her feathers clean, preens them from her,” she means to remind readers of how women who have been raped will sometimes try to scrub themselves clean of violation. In ascribing human qualities to the duck, her speaker exhibits “pathetic fallacy,” and the literary tool she uses to do it (the verb “preens” for example) is called “personification,” a figure of speech that often shows up in nature poetry. Pathetic fallacy and personification appear again at the end of the poem when the speaker sees a cloud “pinned like a gardenia to a pale placket / stitched in pinks and blues.” The speaker has perhaps turned to the sunset’s beauty for solace and in this safe and lovely human image at first seems to find it. The solace is disturbed, though, by a reference to a “storm” in the sky and then is utterly disrupted in the last three lines.

Without these notes would you have seen the socio-political statement Zawinski intended the poem to make? I read the poem in a different way: as an ecological statement about the fragility of nature, here threatened by a storm “and everything / about to change.” To me, “everything” includes not just nature but also humanity (and its nature poetry) threatened by ecological disaster. I like the way this poem corrals its stanzas into neat tercets of equal line length and then breaks the form at this very point where momentous change is being discussed. Keeping the poem regular until the very last stanza heightens the drama of the threatened change in those last three lines and is one source of the power of the poem’s ending.

It really doesn’t matter whether you read the poem the way Zawinski meant it to be read or how I interpreted it, or some other way. All that matters is that the poem has some impact on you, evokes some response. Once a poem is written, it no longer belongs to its maker and it is free to assume meanings that the poet never intended; in fact, a poem’s ability to mean different things to different people is called “universality” and is often cited as an indicia of its success.

 

Mating Season

The ducks are driving me crazy, at it again in the grass,
in the fountain in a splash, and there’s that one
the apartment house manager is scooting out the door.

No one seems to think much of this wild pursuit, duck
dragged down, pushed underwater or onto the sand,
feathered courtiers standing watch until their turn.
 
Small boys, their kites decorating the heavens, ribbon
girls stuffing cuffs of their sleeves full with crab shells
the needle-nosed shorebirds picked through.

But it is these ducks that are driving me crazy, breath
squeezed from one that stumbles then flops under
the next one’s mount, then right at my feet preens, rakes

the ribs of her feathers clean, preens them from her.
And now this nosy tern wild-eyes me as I wade away
from them, away from the noisy architects of sandcastles,

toward that one cloud pinned like a gardenia to a pale placket
stitched in pinks and blues to this storm worn sky,

the weather hovering,
            and everything
                        about to change.

 

Printed with permission by the author from Something About (Blue Light Press, 2009).

zawinski_4-28-15Andrena Zawinski lives and writes from an Alameda, an island in the San Francisco Bay, under a Pacific flyway. Her full collection of poetry, Something About from Blue Light Press in San Francisco, received a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award. Traveling in Reflected Light from Pig Iron Press in Youngstown won a Kenneth Patchen competition in poetry. Zawinski has also authored four chapbooks and is editor of Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women’s Poetry from Scarlet Tanager Books in Oakland, CA. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Quarterly West, Rattle, Nimrod, Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, Progressive Magazine, and many others. She founded and organizes a Women’s Poetry Salon and is Features Editor at PoetryMagazine.com

 

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  • NINA SERRANO August 24, 2015 at 2:53 am

    Loved this poem and much appreciated Rebecca’s Foust’s insights.

    Reply
  • Andrena Zawinski August 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    I am gratified by Rebecca Foust’s thoughtful analysis of my poem, “Mating Season,” at Poetry Sunday: Women’s Voices for Change.

    Reply
  • Victoria G. Smith August 23, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Loved Ms. Zawinski’s poem just as much as Ms. Foust’s preface to it. I truly appreciate this Sunday poetry column. For an an aspiring poet like myself, I look forward to these columns as a welcome continuing education in the craft of writing, an oasis for my writer soul. So, thanks much, Ms. Foust–and congratulations on your recent award. I am inspired thus to get a copy of “Paradise Drive”!

    Reply