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Volume 39, Number 2 (2014)

Between the Sky and the Stove: John Thompson’s Animal Encounters and the Extra-Linguistic Experience

June 25, 2015
October 1, 2014


John Thompson’s poetry engages recent concerns in the field of animal studies. This paper addresses his struggle to move beyond language and toward the animal experience. Both of his poetry collections, At the Edge of the Chopping There Are No Secrets and Stilt Jack, demonstrate his movement from the domestic sphere to the wild. This change rests on the human acquisition of language, which Thompson comes to distrust. This paper argues that he then struggles to reconcile his zoopoetics, as it employs a new sense of metaphor and image, in an effort to capture what cannot be expressed of the animal’s experience in the natural world. His zoopoetics shows how the act of composition in the poem itself might be read as an animal that the poet struggles to tame. While the real animal disrupts the poems with its subversive presence in the composition, he himself is transformed by these encounters and discovers a new identity, not as intruder, but as ontological shape-shifter. Ultimately, he discovers the importance of silence as a counterforce to words, and as an intricate force in the animal’s world.