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“Birdshooting Season” was written by Olive Senior in 1985. The poem talks about the much celebrated bird shooting season in the poet’s area. Senior uses the bird shooting season as a metaphor to describe the gender roles in the society. The men share an intimate bond with their guns, while the women are reduced to the sidelines, preparing food in the kitchen for the event.it also talks about how the young boys wish to be hunters like their father and the young girls wish for the safety of the birds.
About the poet
Oliver Marjorie Senior was born in 1941 in Jamaica. She is a Jamaican author and poet living in Canada currently. She received the title of Poet Laureate of Jamaica in 2021. She has written more than 15 books of poems, fiction, non-fiction and other works. Senior also works as a journalist in both Jamaica and Canada and lives in both the countries.
The poem is written in free verse. It consists of four stanzas. Each paragraph has a different number of lines, four in the first stanza, six in the second, only two in the third and five in the last stanza.
Birdshooting season the men make marriages with their guns My father’s house turns macho as from far the hunters gather
In this stanza the poet is describing the start of the bird shooting event in her area and how once the season starts all the men in the community start to “marry” their guns. The poet talks about how her father’s house becomes very masculine. All the men in the community start to tap into their primal hunter instincts.
The stanza describes the gender roles that men perform in society. The line “men make marriages with their guns” describes the relationship the men have with their hunting guns. They share an unbreakable bond, just like a marriage between a man and a woman. This stanza also shows how the position of a wife is taken over by a gun during the bird shooting season. The next few lines show how the men tap into their “hunter” instincts and turn “macho”, i.e. overly masculine in contrast to the femininity of women.
All night long the contentless women stir their brews: hot coffee chocolata, cerassie wrap pone and tie-leaf for tomorrows’ sport. Tonight the men drink white rum neat.
In this stanza, the speaker shifts the focus from the men and moves to the scene of the women of the household preparing food and beverages in the kitchen. The women toil all night long to prepare for the event the next day. The speaker shows that while the women work in the kitchen, the men sit and drink all night to celebrate.
This stanza shows the stark difference between the roles of men and women. The women are reduced to more mainsail and domestic tasks while the men prepare for the task of bird shooting. The use of the word “countless” in this stanza signifies how these roles are universal and followed by everyone. Countless women do the domestic household jobs while all men sit and drink. This stanza emphasis on the theme of how the gender roles are distributed between men and women, men do the “sport” and the women prepare everything for them.
In the darkness shouldering their packs, guns, they leave
This is a short stanza that shows the scene of the men shouldering their guns early in the morning to leave for the hunt.
This stanza gives the reader a sense of urgency and secrecy. The lines create a sense of suspense by using the term “darkness” for early morning. This leaves the reader to wonder what is going to happen next.
We stand quietly on the Doorstep shivering. Little boys longing to grow up bird hunters too Little girls whispering: Fly Birds Fly
In these lines, the poet shifts the focus from the men and women to the children. “We” the children stand and watch while the men go out to hunt the birds. They stand there “shivering”, due to excitement or fear. The little boys stand and watch with excitement and wish to grow up to become hunters like the men. And the girls watch in fear at the horror. The girls wish for the safety of the birds and wish them to fly to safety.
This stanza also shows the difference between the roles of men and women and how from a young age, the boys and girls start to behave according to their roles. The boys, following in the footsteps of their fathers, start to wish and think of becoming masculine and hunt the birds when they grow up. The girls, just like their mothers, behave in a feline way. They exert the same emotions of submissiveness, docility and empathy. Where the boys connect to the hunters, the girls connect to the helpless birds about to be hunted. They wish for their safety.