Literature for Nonhumans

Literature for Nonhumans

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Author: Gabriel Gudding

Publisher: Ahsahta Press (2015)

The history of Illinois, more an idea than a state, is re-presented in the prose poems of Literature for Nonhumans. Illinois was once an ecoparadise teeming with indigenous species. Now it is, Gabriel Gudding tells us, a "notable absence of nonhuman animal," and a starting place to turn inside-out the language of everyday slaughter. ("An Illinois," he writes, "is any region that conceives of the river as a drain.") Gudding's historiographic prose poetry illustrates our changed relation to nonhuman animals. Over and over, we return to the legal torture of pigs explained matter-of-factly by slaughterhouse manuals of the present day. The extended poem-cum-expository essay displays the wild nonhumans of Illinois-birds, mammals, and more—renamed to parody the language of biologists, whose language is a different kind of animal cage. As Gudding tries to break the syntax and shape of language itself, he is fenced in yet again by impenetrable bureaucratic jargon on the slaughter (the "care") of nonhumans. We even relate to rivers differently in "an apocalypse that cannot be seen" because we don't want to see it. Humans hew forests, drain wetlands, make species extinct, and this poet mourns even through his jeremiad. Gudding's afterword is plea and manifesto; every word of Literature for Nonhumans is crucial to a world in which even simple morality strains for life.