February 1, 2012
Daniel Bourne's poem, “The Last Bestiary,” laments the disappearance of animals and languages.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Daniel Bourne’s interests in the environment and disappearing languages as well as his life-long fascination with animals come together in his poem, “The Last Bestiary,” which is currently featured on Guernica, a major on-line journal of international art and politics, and Verse Daily, a high-profile website that showcases the best poems recently published in American literary journals.
“It’s a poem about disappearances — disappearances of animals and languages,” said Bourne. “Literature can’t prevent such disappearances but it can point out that such things are happening.”
Bourne, a professor of English at The College of Wooster and editor of the literary magazine Artful Dodge, started working on the poem several years ago, but only recently did he consider it “finished.” He submitted it to Guernica, where editor Erica Wright lauded it as a piercing meditation on a destroyed world. "This poem captures an almost unbearable time in which no animals remain in the world,” she said. “Only the ones in literature are able to react, and they are terrified. Despite this reality, the last couplet is almost hopeful, imagining a world in which leaves — however dead — can speak to one another.”
Bourne, who grew up on a farm in southern Illinois, said the poem brings together several different areas of his background. “When I talk about how even the animals in books are distressed, I’m relying on my nine years spent working in a rare book library, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, seeing wormholes in leather-bound covers and the acid from brittle yellow tape eating up the old paper the tape was meant to repair.”
But Bourne also points to his many years spent living in Poland, which made him sensitive to the notion of disappearing populations of language-speakers, be it already extinct languages like Pomeranian or Old Prussian, or current small-language populations like the Kashubians.
Founded in 2004, Guernica not only combines literature and the visual arts, but also features contributors from all over the world. It has been a frequent participant in PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature, and has co-sponsored events with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and Amnesty International. Guernica’s interactive web-site includes an audio recording of Bourne reading the poem.
“I will always be writing about animals,” Bourne said. His first book The Household Gods features a number of poems involving animals or human attitudes toward animals, including “The Rainbow Sheep,” a story about a boy who won’t color the animals in his coloring book sensible colors like brown or yellow, but favors purple and bright green. “That was me when I was four or five,” said Bourne.
Bourne’s collections of poetry include Where No One Spoke the Language as well as The Household Gods. His poems and translations from Polish have appeared in such publications as FIELD, American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Salmagundi, Tar River Poetry, Shenandoah, Partisan Review, and elsewhere. In addition to English, he teaches courses in the environmental studies program at Wooster.
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