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.
“Just as Sinclair exposed humanity’s lack of humanity in The Jungle over a hundred years ago, Gudding creates, in Literature for Nonhumans, a vivid lyric investigation of our society’s current slide from an age of destruction into a new age of extinctions. In this multidisciplinary & interdisciplinary text, Gudding notches every inch between lament and manifesto and intersects every topic from here (piglets, zombies, Illinois) to heaven where, upon arrival, we find ‘Christ as an anal robot-king we’ve set narratively running at the edge of history to serve as a reparator by vicarious redemption.’ Prepare to be horrified, crackled, poem-ed. Prepare to be schooled.”—Amy King
“In Literature for Nonhumans, Gudding indicts the carnivore’s apocalyptic appetite and nails his zöopoetic theses to the door of pastoral: a manifesto for thinking poetics through ethics and both through the ecological understanding that links rivers, slaughterhouses, cars, buffalos, geology, churches, corn, defecation, piglet management, zombies, watches, sex, bicycles, OOO, furniture, ‘owls who look like headmistresses,’ and extirpated wild Illinois species. The book itself is a paean to and lament for the lost wetlands of ‘Illinois’—poetic essays that model a thinking in and through language embracing porousness and entanglement rather than specious eco correctness, while unwaveringly focused on the massive contradiction of the slaughterhouse. The optimism of such literature lies in what language and imagination can wander into and invent, flushing out future terms and connections (for a time when humans might no longer see the nonhuman through the telescope of meat), pulling the abject into the light of consideration, and calling readers to come out of the (merely) human political, to let the mortal art of poetry touch the diet.” —Jonathan Skinner
About the Author
Gabriel Gudding is the author of the books Literature for Nonhumans (Ahsahta, 2015), Rhode Island Notebook (Dalkey Archive Press, 2007) and A Defense of Poetry (Pitt, 2002), as well as numerous chapbooks. His essays and poems appear in such periodicals as Harper’s Magazine, The Nation, and Journal of the History of Ideas, in such anthologies as Great American Prose Poems, Best American Poetry, and &Now: Best Innovative Writing. His translations from Spanish appear in anthologies such as The Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry, Poems for the Millennium, and The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry.