In Case There’s a Fox
In Case There’s a Fox is a poem I wrote for my daughter when she was four years old. It is accompanied by illustrations that come from two narrative paintings I made at the same time. In those days, Bow was very small, and although I was busy caring for both Bow and Sword, we spent a lot of our time freely roaming the ten acres around my house. I even indulged in acrylic painting in the barn with Sword, the two of us seated on sawhorses, while Bow was in the playpen just behind us. It was all very idyllic and only a little bit lonely, because we seldom had any guests or interactions with the outside world.
All these things eventually changed. The kids grew. Sword went to school. Bow and I had to retire to the pens, and along the way I discovered the internet as a window on the world, and a way to express my opinions, share my thoughts, and even publish.
This year, as a first attempt at publishing with CreateSpace I chose… gasp! …not one of my novels, or a book of my essays, or a collection of my short stories, or an anthology of poetry. I chose instead this tiny little children’s book.
This is a detail of a painting I did that hangs in Sword’s room. Copyright 2003, 2010 Aya Katz
Genre: Children’s Nonsense Poem, Tale about Animals, Picture Book?
What genre does In Case There’s a Fox belong to? As usual, I find it hard to say. It’s for children, but the words are not always on a very small child’s level of English. It’s a story in which animals are displayed prominently, but it would be misleading to say that it’s a story about animals. In fact, it’s not a story at all. It doesn’t have a plot. The situation at the end of the poem is exactly the same as the situation at the beginning of the poem. Nothing has happened.
Of course, a non-plot like that would not prevent something from being accepted as a short story in The New Yorker, but we hold ourselves to higher standards around here. So it’s not a story.
If really pressed, I would say it was a nonsense poem. But the problem with that is that, at least on some level, it does mean something. It’s saying something. But what?
The Fox and the Hedgehog
In a previous exploration of genre, I made perhaps a misguided claim to being a hedgehog rather than a fox. I was referring to Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History. The title comes from a fragment by the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
My observation about my own writing was that I tend to write about the same issues over and over again in different guises. I have obsessions. I don’t really address a new problem or a completely different set of characters each time I write a new work. Anyway, that’s what I thought at the time, but there were those of my readers who disagreed with me. They suggested that maybe I was a fox, and I did not know it.
In writing the blurb for the back cover of In Case There’s a Fox, I had to mentally agree with those readers. After all, In Case There’s a Fox is nothing like The Few Who Count or Vacuum County.
Resemblance to The Debt Collector
Recently I have been working on revising my play, The Debt Collector, in between editing proofs of In Case There’s a Fox. For a while there I was eating, drinking and breathingThe Debt Collector after months of not looking at it at all. But, every once in a while, a proof of In Case There’s a Fox would arrive, and I’d start looking at the pictures, until one day this odd realization dawned on me: In Case There’s a Fox is just like The Debt Collector!
It’s the same situation. The characters are the same, too. The fox is like Blood.The hares are like the Lark family. The bloodhound is like Constable Peoples. And Sword — not Sword my daughter, but Sword the character– is just like Siren! And the way that the fox is looking at Sword, why it’s that same look that Blood has, when he sees Siren!
Why the hares won’t snitch
So what actually happens in this poem? A little girl and a dog are hunting a fox. They’re a little bit afraid of the fox, but they also want very much to see him, because the fox is beautiful and mysterious and powerful. The girl tries to enlist the aid of the hares who keep bounding by, as they are seemingly victimized by the fox, but they don’t offer her any assistance. She wonders why.
Would it be a better world for the hares, if the fox were caught? What would such a world look like? Would the hares be able to breed without any restraint, now that the chief predator has been eliminated? Would they lead a life of idyllic consumption, or would they end up overpopulating the fields, dying of disease and pestilence, and even being exterminated and domesticated by man?
Isn’t the way of life that the hares enjoy very much dependent on the well being of the fox?
No Bad Guys
Like The Debt Collector, In Case There’s a Fox is a story with no bad guys. The fox is good. The hares are good. The little girl and her hound are also good. All is right with the world, as long as everything remains in balance.
In a perfect world there is much more phlox than there are hares, many more hares than there are foxes, and fewer little girls and dogs than each fox that is somewhere out there. Everyone is beautiful and everyone has a place to fill, and the key to life is not peace at all — it’s balance!
So is that what In Case There’s a Fox really means? I don’t know. I didn’t consciously think of it when I was writing the poem. I had forgotten all about The Debt Collector, and that was the last thing on my mind. But is it a valid interpretation? I think it might be. Could there be other valid interpretations? Sure. Lots of them.
Do you want to try your hand? If you write reviews of children’s books, send me a link to a sample review and a mailing address, and I’ll send you a free review copy of In Case There’s a Fox!
Copyright 2010 Aya Katz