Do Licensed Deer Look Up?


As if there’s not enough to think about while writing a poem — word choice, figurative language, sound devices, etc. — you also have to consider logic.

Logic, you ask? And poetry?

Sure. Science and art are not cleanly divided like church and state (supposedly) are. A poem containing an anachronism would be an obvious example. Can you imagine a rendition of Browning’s last duchess which depicts her checking a cellphone for texts? (Like most modern-day people, her neck would be permanently pitched downward.)

I came up against this cold wall of logic when writing and revising my poem “Deer Stand” for The Indifferent World. Years and years ago, as a “deer hunter” who secretly preferred the outdoors to shooting any unsuspecting deer (which I never did), I knew a thing or two about eastern whitetails just by listening to my fellow hunters around the dinner table each night.

One thing I learned? Deer don’t look up. Thus, the venerable deer stand — an often simple wooden structure built in a tree. During deer hunting forays, I spent many an hour in one of these stands freezing my hey-nonny-nonnies off (as Shakespeare would say when writing about November in Maine).

The problem was, in the first drafts of “Deer Stand,” it appeared the deer in question had detected my hideout by sight, a trick veteran hunters would chuckle over– and we all know how much hunters enjoy laughing at poet errors when they gather at fish and game clubs for “Poetry Night.”

The fix took some subtle word maneuvering. To justify the words in the last line “watch me shiver from an indifferent distance” (referring to the deer), I embedded language earlier in the poem for the sake of logic:

I sit twenty feet above forest undergrowth
eyeing a deer path crossed only by dead
leaves and old scat. Down-to-earth it climbs
a hill even with my view…

With that topography, I now had deer whose eyes were on an equal plane with mine. Would they really see me, though? Grizzled Nimrods would say that deer are more about scent and sound than sight, but some scientific pieces online (yes, they exist) state that deer see at greater distances than most think.

And how, you ask, does poetic license come into play here? Some feel that the license can and should trump logic. Who cares if deer look up, they would argue. After all, is the license worth nothing anymore? Think of those poor souls spending bushels of bucks for MFAs in poetry! For their sakes, let’s not give up the fight for licensed immunity for  logic, of all things! Let’s not worry how well Dudley the Deer spies us from afar.

But let’s not leave the realm of reason, either. Or at least that was my final decision in revising this poem. Here is the final version, as it appeared in the book:


Deer Stand by Ken Craft

Here I hold a soft silver something
in the rapidly draining dark, my thermos
weakly phosphorescent in the slow-breaking
November dawn. Like the Buddha of Frostbite,
I sit twenty feet above forest undergrowth
eyeing a deer path crossed only by dead
leaves and old scat. Down-to-earth, it climbs
a hill even with my view, mocking
such stratagems as wooden stands
creaking between the crotches of oak
and maple. So pour hour-old camp coffee,
inhale its ghostly tendrils, invoke
the absent-minded god of hearth and home,
imagine black-iron omelets and sourdough
toasts, buttered suns setting into scratchy centers.
At my side, colder fare—camera, Moleskine,
chewed Ticonderoga, and that Chekhovian
prop, the rifle. I mention this because it
does not go off by the end of the poem, not
while bedding bucks and does, compressed pine
needles under blood-warm bellies in the fur-white
wind, watch me shiver from an indifferent distance.