The voices of near-extinct animals create troubled echoes in Jaya Stenquist’s debut collection>
The voices of near-extinct animals create troubled echoes in Jaya Stenquist’s debut collection, Animal Afterlife. In fragmented reincarnations, these poems reach for the limits of humanity, the boundaries of species, and the laws of embodiment. Here, sensations become the mechanism for insight. With lithe lyric power, Stenquist builds a world of impossibilities, a language for the binturong, the eyeless spider, the siren of Canosa, and wild ponies of England; communications and intermingling with the human that can never be preserved, only imagined. As the Earth continues to change during its Sixth Great Extinction, Animal Afterlife creates an archive of spellbinding ghosts.
“‘Without eyes / we are the only ones who really know beauty,’ says the wolf spider in Jaya Stenquist’s inspired new collection, Animal Afterlife. Here are poems littered with the wisdom of all god’s creatures, both animal and mythic, the ones born in their mothers’ mouths, and the human ones driven to search for what can never be lost. ‘O Great Remover of Innocence / have you ever been more / than silence?’ In Animal Afterlife, life’s hunger for experience is ultimately transformed into wonder. A fascinating read.”
—Quan Barry, author of When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East
“From the northern hairy nosed wombat to the Cook Inlet beluga, the bestiary of Animal Afterlife presents a chorus of animal voices at the cusp of extinction. Bright with curiosity and imagination, Stenquist’s persona poems and essayistic lyrics dart and flitter among the terrors and degradations of contemporary life yet alight again and again on beauty, pleasure, and vitality. ‘What strange joy I’ve known / being made animal on random days,’ Stenquist writes, in lines that aptly describe the strange-making experience of these poems. Animal Afterlife’s seductively unsettling music and embodied ways of knowing invite us into a poetic ecosystem ‘apart from the comprehensible world,’ and return us to that human world and its insidious logics no longer quite ourselves.”
—Chad Bennett, author of Your New Feeling is the Artifact of a Bygone Era
“Animal Afterlife is a work of the highest insight. It should be read and taught alongside Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature, W.S. Merwin’s Migration, The Book of Job, The Heart Sutra. It should be handed out in NICU units, placed next to your dog’s ashes, read each morning as you wake. Where is the line between man and beast? Us and the extinct? To read Jaya Stenquist’s radiant debut is to finally know: there is no line. Each poem transfigured my last ideas about the boundaries of this life, the self, myself. Through Stenquist, the whole earth warns: it is only inside each other, we resurrect.”
—Rebecca Gayle Howell, author of American Purgatory
Author SiteReview @ Kirkus Reviews
Jaya Stenquist is a writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Mid- American, Black Warrior Review, and West Branch Wired. She is a PhD student at the University of Texas-Austin.