The Songs of Others: Contemporary Poetics and the More-than-human
MetadataShow full item record
This essay considers the presence of animal or non-human language in a selection of twentieth century and contemporary poems. Of course, critical discussion of the representation of animals and plants in poetry is hardly unusual in the growing number of forums for ecocriticism. Less common, however, is attention to those moments when a poet attempts to provide space in his or her poem for the poetry of the animals and plants themselves. So, focusing first on poems by Tomas Tranströmer and Eugenio Montejo, in which turns to the non-human are quite common, I want to ask why non-human languages are so important in their work. From here I will map out a series of concerns that are often entangled with the presence of animal voices in poetry, involving examples from a number of Australian and North and South American poets, including Les Murray, Judith Wright, Pablo Neruda and José Emilio Pacheco. The aim here is not to provide an historical account of the evolution and tradition of animalistic poetic forms, or literary ‘bestiaries’, as they are often referred to, but rather to give a sense of the function and importance of such forms in modern and contemporary practice, and to show how, regardless of geographical location, many such poems turn to the animal as part of a similar route of exploration. These poems gesture towards the possibility of poetry beyond the human, just as recent critical theory has also attempted to venture beyond the human in the analysis of concepts such as “body”, “text” and “culture”. At the same time, there is a palpable absence within critical discourse of a sense of what, exactly, some of these more-than-human poetic forms might be. As Kate Rigby argues, however, cultivating an attention to the calls of the non-human might recover “the semiosis of the more-than-human world” and help Western societies “to overcome the perilous condition of self-enclosure” that renders us “dangerously oblivious” to our relations with other creatures.[i] Thus, the final part of the essay will be a case study of a tango lyric from Argentina, which tells of the disappearance of a South American sparrow known as the chingolo. In an effort to recover something of the chingolo’s song, I conclude with a reading of contemporary chingolo poetics.
Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics
© The Author[s] 2017. This is an electronic version of an article published in Stuart Cooke, The Songs of Others: Contemporary Poetics and the More-than-human, Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics, Vol.4 (1), Jan 2017, https://plumwoodmountain.com/the-songs-of-others-contemporary-poetics-and-the-more-than-human/ . For information about this journal please refer to the journal's website or contact the author[s].
Comparative Literature Studies