Original poem reprinted online here: "Old Men Pitching Horseshoes" by X.J Kennedy
Originally read: August 2013
More information about the Poet: X.J Kennedy
AABB rhyme scheme. Why? There seems to be a separation of the current and the past in the poem and each seem too separate to intertwine. The rhyme scheme does add a sing song quality to the poem at times, but, I feel, the rhyme scheme adds a sense of "pleasant" nostalgia.
In the first stanza, the current is in a narrative voice. "Back in a yard where ringers groove a ditch , These four in shirtsleeves congregate to pitch / Dirt-burnished iron." The description is constructed tightly, the verbs "groove" "congregate" focus on visual action; meanwhile, the "shirtsleeves" and the "Dirt- burnished iron" brings visual based on objects. The scene is vivid and described to be alive and in the present -- setting wise at least.
"With appraising eye, / One sizes up a peg, hoists and lets fly-- / A clang resounds as though a smith had struck / Fire from a forge." From the general the focus goes to the individual. Note the individual eyeing or letting things fly. This action from the individual is then turned into a simile of "fire from a forge." With this, there's foreshadowing in which construction and body come into play.
[...] His first blow, out of luck,
Rattles in circles. Hitching up his face,
Hew swings, and weight once more inhabits space,
Tumbles as gently as a new-laid egg.
The "one" actions revolve around failing to "hit the peg" or rather the concept of retrying. Every action is detailed to slow down the action -- as though the speaker is paying too much attention to the person, so when the speaker keeps going on with the description -- the attention to detail is fuddled but not lost. Past me wrote this about "weight once more inhabits space," -- "telling line, out of place in the poem, but foreshadows something lost here." And it's not really something lost from the subjects perspective, but rather something lost in the speaker's perspective -- and that's focus.
When the speaker turns to the simile describing something tumbling, there isn't a focus on what -- is it the horseshoe, or the man, or the scene, or what? The description falters here.
"Extended iron arms surround their peg / Like one come home to greet a long-lost brother. Shouts from one outpost. Mutters from the other." The description seems descriptive here, but most of the weight of description here is on the simile. Note how choppy the lines for the simile are as though to reinforce a sense of brevity. This breaks the flow of the narrative, and with the opening line in the second stanza, "Now changes sides, each withered pitcher moves" here's the shift, the bb to the aa.
"As his considered dignity behooves / Down the worn path of earth where August flies" The visual has now gone internal. The lost-brother simile above is a little bit over the top, but introduces the personal. In here the personal is not explored so much as the internal. Dignity. What does this mean to a visual poem, or this game? It's a routine for a game based on aim and calculation. Diginity is formed:
Down the worn path of earth where August flies
And sheaves of air in warm distortions rise,
To stand ground, fling, kick dust with all the force
Of shoes still hammered to a living horse.
These four lines are dependent on implication. Note how time and the horseshoe have similar verbs "fly" as though to signify time passing. Furthermore, the actions of flying "distort" a rise.
The focus on action belies the sedentary. What I mean is that even a simple game with an end needs players to act, "to stand ground, fling, kick dust with all the force" perhaps fighting against something -- death, overaccuracy, or seriousness -- whatever metaphor would work with the horshoe hammering to a living horse. I sort of violent image, but this goes back to the "fire from a forge" line. Construction. And what's constructed from the living, movement, comfort, flow.