Sunday, April 01, 2018

`Pick Your Goat on Its Looks'

I was pleased to see that an agricultural program in the Oklahoma public schools has incorporated a poem by Yvor Winters into its curriculum. “April” is from his third book, The Bare Hills (1927), and is written in the Imagist style he was soon to abandon:

“The little goat
new grass lying down
leaps up eight inches
into air and
lands on four feet.
Not a tremor--
solid in the spring and serious
he walks away.”

Ag in the Classroom is administered by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H Youth Development, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Winters had not yet matured as a poet. “April” is charming but slight. The “Discussion Questions and Activities” that follow the poem are the usual combination of useful and silly. Among the former is this: “What qualities does the goat have? Why might he suddenly leap into the air?” I can see kids having fun with that. See another early Winters poem, “Song for a Small Boy Who Herds Goats.” He knew goats with the same practical thoroughness that he knew prosody and poetic tradition. Winters devotes an entire letter to the care and feeding of goats – two pages long in The Selected Letters of Yvor Winters (ed. R.L. Barth, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2000). On March 27, 1943, he writes to Charles D. Abbott (American librarian, 1900-1961), after advising him on the proper breed to buy:

“I advise you to pick your goat on its looks, not on its breeding. As to using you goat to clear land, there is no real harm in it, unless the eastern U.S. breeds especially unpleasant shrubs [Winters writes from Palo Altos, Calif.], which is more than likely. Green food makes any milk, cow or goat, a trifle stronger than dry, but the difference is slight, and no farmer worries about it. Our goats always grazed as long as there was any grazing.”

Winters closes his letter to Abbott with this: “If you want any more advice about farming, let me know.” And then a P.S.: “For God’s sake don’t enquire of Robert Frost.”

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