Poetry and Animals

Blurring the Boundaries with the Human

Onno Oerlemans

Columbia University Press

Poetry and Animals

Google Preview

Pub Date: March 2018

ISBN: 9780231159548

256 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $60.00£47.00

Pub Date: March 2018

ISBN: 9780231547420

256 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $59.99£47.00

Poetry and Animals

Blurring the Boundaries with the Human

Onno Oerlemans

Columbia University Press

Why do poets write about animals? What can poetry do for animals and what can animals do for poetry? In some cases, poetry inscribes meaning on animals, turning them into symbols or caricatures and bringing them into the confines of human culture. It also reveals and revels in the complexity of animals. Poetry, through its great variety and its inherently experimental nature, has embraced the multifaceted nature of animals to cross, blur, and reimagine the boundaries between human and animal.

In Poetry and Animals, Onno Oerlemans explores a broad range of English-language poetry about animals from the Middle Ages to the contemporary world. He presents a taxonomy of kinds of animal poems, breaking down the categories and binary oppositions at the root of human thinking about animals. The book considers several different types of poetry: allegorical poems, poems about “the animal” broadly conceived, poems about species of animal, poems about individual animals or the animal as individual, and poems about hybrids and hybridity. Through careful readings of dozens of poems that reveal generous and often sympathetic approaches to recognizing and valuing animals’ difference and similarity, Oerlemans demonstrates how the forms and modes of poetry can sensitize us to the moral standing of animals and give us new ways to think through the problems of the human-animal divide.
Onno Oerlemans’s Poetry and Animals represents an important contribution to the scholarship on animals and human-animal relations in literature. We badly need some excellent work on poetry from a human-animal studies perspective, and this book provides a provocative, erudite, thoughtful, and engaging contribution. Philip Armstrong, author of What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity
Oerlemans interrogates how poetry, as a specific form of writing, “reveals tendrils of meaning about animals that other kinds of writing and thinking do not.” His astonishing close readings of choice examples illuminate how poetry sustains a productive ambiguity and openness in the representation—which always involves interpretation—of animals. Great for anyone teaching, writing about, or even just trying to pay attention to animals. Susan McHugh, University of New England
Animals are present in many poems and key to the development of poetic form, yet relatively little has been written about their formative place in poetry. Poetry and Animals redresses the lack of attention to poetry within animal studies and highlights the essential role of our fellow creatures in the history of poetry. Anat Pick, Queen Mary University of London
Oerlemans is an insightful reader of poetry’s “negative capability,” its anti-solipsistic investigation of the existential entanglements that spill over the borders of self and species. This splendid book makes a convincing case that poetry has much to teach us about both the ‘animal’ as an unstable category that haunts human self-conception and the astonishing diversity of nonhuman life-worlds. It is particularly incisive as a meditation on how thinking typologically, about genres and species, may deepen our attention to the individual existence of a poem or animal. Tobias Menely, University of California, Davis
Contents


Acknowledgments


Introduction
1. The Animal in Allegory: From Chaucer to Gray
2. Poems of the Animal
3. Poetry as Field Guide: The Species Poem
4. The Individual Animal in Poetry
5. Of Hybridity and the Hybrid
Coda


Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Onno Oerlemans is professor of literature at Hamilton College. He is the author of Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature (2002).