Book Review: Poetic Animals and Animal Souls


This book is a DNF for me and I’m sorry for it. It’s me. Not this book. Also, it’s an inter-library loan with a due date so I didn’t feel I could devote enough time to it.

I got about halfway through — and it is a skinny book — but realized I don’t have the mind enough to finish it. It is a struggle for me to digest most poetry, and being unfamiliar with a lot of the poets and poems Malamud highlights I just didn’t feel like I could critique this book properly.

Although, I did like what I did read — I did learn some things. I love Malamud’s approach and his observations.  Here’s some quotes that I took away from the book:

“As an example of how people relate to animals across this frontier, in which solely human consideration mediate the encounter, consider the logic underlying the exhibition of captive animals in zoos. Keepers remind spectators that many of the animals on display cannot survive in their native environments, which have been desecrated; thus zoos are supposed to testify to our society’s benevolent concern for these animals taken into protective custody in a small, artificial compound far from their natural habitat…How exactly did we the animals’ habitats get destroyed? What cultural dynamics connect the destruction of animal habitats and the enjoyment that we reap as we bring these animals…into our ken, surrounded by souvenirs, popcorn, parking lots…”

“The disinterest in looking at bugs is probably related to the interest in looking at lions: people flock to zoos to see what we shouldn’t see — see what we’re not meant to see in our own native habitats and environs. The corollary of the craving to know animals that don’t belong in our ken of perception is the resistance to knowing the animals that do belong around us. Bugs, squirrels, pigeons: dull, low-rent attractions.”

“The more determination we exert trying to get to know animals in the way that we know the tings in our world, heedless of their own independent existence and integrity and process, the more we are disappointed by the failure to achieve this. They will defy being known in that way — and so we can either “mis-know” them: capture them, punish them, tame them, put them in cages, humiliate them, marginalize them..or, as Heaney does here, we can confront the limits of our epistemologies: we can stop our heroic march toward omniscience and unbounded experiential conquest, and pause to reflect on what it means for us to know (or try to know) animals.”



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