Visual Cultures Public Programme Autumn 2019
David Farrier - '"The Saying of Language Itself": Poetry and Extinction’
In April this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services issued a deeply troubling report on the state of the world's ecosystems: up to one million species are threatened with extinction. A third of mammals, a third of reef-forming corals, and 40% of amphibians could disappear. The majority - around 75% - have not been studied in detail or are even unknown to science, and likely to vanish before they can make a mark on human speech.
In this paper, I examine what kind of response poetry can offer in the face of such a calamity. Each individual death of a threatened animal alludes to the greater loss looming over the species, and the shame with which this confronts us is comparable to what Denise Riley calls “lyric shame,” an affective response in which it is possible to attend to “the saying of language itself.” By examining amphibian-themed poems by Paul Muldoon, Kathleen Jamie, and Vahni Capildeo, I suggest that we can find in lateral-shifting strategies common to the lyric poem, such as allusion and ekphrasis, a shape for poetry that moves beyond “singing in distress” to “an acknowledged sorrow.”
David Farrier is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. His most recent book is Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction(University of Minnesota Press, 2019). Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils will be published by 4th Estate in early 2020.
"The Saying of Language Itself": Poetry and Extinction' is part of the Visual Cultures Public Programme Autumn 2019: "Living Extinction", co-organised by Lynn Turner & Wood Roberdeau.
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