The Great Poem Series: Kay Ryan’s “Home to Roost”

The poem, Home to Roost, was created by Kay Ryan who is considered to be on of the most original voices in contemporary poetry. The poem is about bad deeds coming back to haunt you and in order to understand the poem, the reader must understand the saying “Chickens coming home to roost.” The meaning of that saying is that the bad things that you have done, will come back and it’s inevitable. Metaphorically speaking, the bad deeds are the chickens and when you release them, they will eventually come back to their roost or home. It is most often used when someone is trying to call out a certain person’s behavior and let them know that essentially, you reap what you sow. An example of this is Malcolm X’s response to John F. Kennedy being assassinated. Malcolm X believed that John F. Kennedy had failed to stop racial violence and that caused Malcolm X to state that this was just another example of chickens coming home to roost. This helps to cement this as a great poem because of the fact that the author used an old saying and turned it into an entire poem that is only understood once you learn about the saying. The reason that that is a good thing is because it makes the poem one that is not initially obvious and transparent. It appears to be a poem about chickens at first, but once the poem is understood, the reader no longer sees the chicken as chickens, but as what they represent. What they represent is something that is intangible which makes the chickens a necessary element to the poem. Although the allusion to the old saying is not the most obscure thing, it isn’t obvious at the same time because it is not hard to read the poem a couple of times trying to figure out what the chickens represent without coming to a conclusion right away.

Another one of the things that makes the poem great is the execution of it. It establishes from the very start, the first line to be specific, that whoever we are reading about has done a lot of bad deeds, but it’s never stated. That and the use of enjambment causes the poem to have a really nice flow to it. Another thing that the poem does is that the poem shape itself is structured in a long narrow way and as you read the poem, it is as if the poem is all coming down. The opening sentence is that “the chickens are circling and blotting out the day.”(Ryan) This establishes from the beginning that these chickens, or bad deeds, have already been released. The next line which states that “the sun is bright, but the chickens are in the way” (Ryan)really supports the idea that this is something that was caused by somebody. It does that by making sure the readers know that it was originally a bright and sunny day, but due to the actions of this person, the sun is blocked out. This pushes the blame onto whoever released the chickens and establishes that this is something that was avoidable, but is now already in full swing. This is supported by the line saying that “These are the chickens you let loose one at a time and small, various breeds.”(Ryan) This line is the first and only time that the poem directly says you. The poem is putting all of the blame onto this sole person while also revealing another bit of information. It reveals that these chickens were released slowly over time and of different sizes and breeds. This shows that the person in the poem did a bad deed every once in awhile and some were small while others were bigger, but they added up over time.

A major factor for Home to Roost being considered a great poem, is the way that the poem is able to convey exactly what is going on to the person reading it without outright stating it. On the very first read of the poem the reader is able to pick up on a lot without ever having to understand what the poem actually means or is trying to convey. For example, the reader can immediately tell that the chickens are not a good thing. “The chickens are circling and blotting out the day. The sun is bright, but the chickens are in the way. Yes, the sky is dark with chickens, dense with them.”(Ryan) That entire section of the poem is letting the reader know how ominous the chickens are. It talks about how the chickens are blocking the sun which represents light, and then turning it into darkness. Also the poem is delivered in way which makes it seem like the author is telling someone that you reap what you sow or is saying that the chickens come home to roost. This is supported the fact that the author says “you let loose one at a time” and follows it up by saying “now they have come home to roost.” (Ryan) The tone is very judgmental and almost as if the author is trying to prove a point and say “look what happens when you do this.”

The reasons that these factors make the poem great is because of the fact that not many poems are able to accomplish all of those things and still make the poem entertaining to read.

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