Poetry, Animals and the Imaginative Ethnographies of Creaturely Lives

  • Jane Desmond
Keywords: animals, poetry, ethnography


In conversation with recent work on post-humanism and theorizations of the “more-than-human” world, I explore the capacities of literature, and especially contemporary poetry, to function as a sort of imaginative ethnography. Considering selected poems by US authors as a mode of “multispecies ethnography,” I draw on anthropological debates about ways of knowing more-than-human worlds, and the challenges of articulating that (necessarily anthropocentric) speculative knowledge. I argue that poetry, with its emphasis on condensation and multi-layered semiotics, along with its affective dimensions built through craft tools of sound, image, rhythm and line breaks, can function as a form of transpecies imaginative translation. It may even cultivate empathy, ultimately building toward change in human-animal relations in the world, through acts of writing and interpretation that imaginatively translate across the species divides, articulating shared human and more-than-human worlds.

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