This book argues that there are deep connections between ‘poetic’ thinking and the sensitive recognition of creaturely others. It explores this proposition in relation to four poets: Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, and Les Murray. Through a series of close readings, and by paying close attention to issues of sound, rhythm, simile, metaphor, and image, it explores how poetry cultivates a special openness towards animal others.
The thinking behind this book is inspired by J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals. In particular, it takes up that book’s suggestion that poetry invites us to relate to animals in an open-ended and sympathetic manner. Poets, according to Elizabeth Costello, the book’s protagonist, ‘return the living, electric being to language’, and, doing so, compel us to open our hearts towards animals and the claims they make upon us. There are special affinities, for her, between the music of poetry and the recognition of others.
But what might it mean to say that poets to return life to language? And why might this have any bearing on our relationship with animals? Beyond offering many suggestive starting points, Elizabeth Costello says very little about the nature of poetry’s special relationship with the animal; one aim of this study, then, is to ask of what this relationship consists, not least by examining the various ways poets have bodied forth animals in language.
About the Author
Michael Malay is Lecturer in English Literature and Environmental Humanities at the University of Bristol, UK.
Table of Contents
1 Why Look at Animals?: Poetry and the Difficulty of Reality
2 The Homely and the Wild in Marianne Moore
and Elizabeth Bishop
3 Rhythmic Contact: Ted Hughes and Animal Life
4 Presence and the Mystery of Embodiment: Les Murray’s
Translations from the Natural World
5 Poetry’s Electric Being
What People are Saying About This
“Iris Murdoch spoke of how important it was to recall the living and radical nature of language. Michael Malay's remarkable book shows us what such language can do- how it opens up for us true and feeling perception of animals, perception that can respond to them in their extraordinary and wondrous variety.” (Cora Diamond, Kenan Professor of Philosophy Emerita at the University of Virginia, USA)
“Imaginative and persuasive, The Figure of the Animal in Modern and Contemporary Poetry takes us far beyond Elizabeth Costello’s commentary on nonhuman animals in poetry. Malay’s volume is essential reading for lovers of poetry, and for anyone interested in the insistent appearances of nonhuman animals in this genre.” (Wendy Woodward, author of The Animal Gaze: Animal Subjectivities in Southern African Narratives, UK)
“Based on close reading of four distinguished twentieth-century poets from across the Anglophone world, Michael Malay has written a learned, literate, sophisticated, and grounded exploration of an intriguing and provocative question: does poetry bring us closer to the experience of other animals? or, does it enable us to know them better?” (Harriet Ritvo, Arthur J. Conner Professor of History at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA)