• Gordon Meade

Poetry and Pictures: Zoospeak and beyond

Updated: Sep 25

As someone who has been writing poems about animals for almost forty years, it was coming across the work of the Canadian photographer and animal activist, Jo-Anne McArthur, initially in her first book, We Animals, in 2017, and subsequently in her second book, Captive, in 2018, that gave me both the opportunity, and the compulsion to attempt to write both for animals, and from their perspective.


Equally, it was my stumbling across the podcast, The Animal Turn, that allowed me to think about the concept of The Animal Turn, as a different way for humans to interact with the non-human animals with which we share this planet. So, it seems to me that this is one of the best platforms available for me to share some of the most recent work I have been involved in regarding this area.


Zoospeak, a collaboration between myself and Jo-Anne McArthur, was published in 2020 by Enthusiastic Press in London. The collection of poems and photographs try, in their own ways, to express the experiences of animals in captivity throughout the world, mostly in zoos and aquariums. One of the earliest poems from the collection is the following:


Malayan Sun Bear, Thailand, 2008


Jo-Anne McArthur, WAM13888

I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look.


I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look

past the sheet of glass.


I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look

past the sheet of glass

that separates us - I have.


I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look

past the sheet of glass

that separates us. I have

raised my right paw.


I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look

past the sheet of glass

that separates us. I have

raised my right paw

and placed it against the pane.


I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look

past the sheet of glass

that separates us. I have

raised my right paw

and placed it against the pane.

Look into my eyes, my gaze.


I am just one of the ghosts

that you are likely to see here

if you are willing to look

past the sheet of glass

that separates us. I have

raised my right paw

and placed it against the pane.

Look into my eyes. My gaze

can cut right through it.



The above poem is representative of the others in the collection, all of which use the first person, are written in the present tense, and use repetition to try and replicate the sort of mental trauma that caged

animals can experience.


My latest project is another series of poems which take their inspiration from Jo-Anne McArthur's most recent book, Hidden - Animals in the Anthropocene. The poems, although very different in style, once again attempt to show the various ways in which non-human animals continue to be exploited throughout the world in factory farming, the fishing industry, fashion, scientific research, religion, and entertainment. I will end this blog by sharing a few of the above-mentioned poems.



Cobra

Jo-Anne McArthur, WAM10786

I am fang.

I am venom.

I am strike.

I am spit.


I am danger.

I am poison.

I am wisdom.

I am wit.


I am scale.

I am slither.

I am hood.

I am grass.


I am coiled.

I am pickled.

I am entombed

in glass.



Goat

Jo-Anne McArthur, WAM566

I am dusk.

I am dawn

I am mountain.

I am lawn.


I am hoof.

I am horn.

I am fleece.

I am shorn.


I am golden.

I am Pan.

I am devil.

I am man.


I am petal.

I am bud.

I am water.

I am blood.



Raccoon Dog

Jo-Anne McArthur, WAM10158

I am outlaw.

I am bandit.

I am robber.

I am hood.


I am sneakthief.

I am locksmith.

I am bad.

I am good.


I am watcher.

I am crafty.

I am always

on the go.


I am masked.

I am caged.

I am folly.

I am faux.



More information regarding Zoospeak, including a link to the poet reading some poems from the collection, is available from the publisher's website: www.enthusiasticpress.co.uk


*All images Jo-Anne McArthur on We Animals Media.

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