Spring ‘In a Word’ explored writing ‘beyond the human’

In a wide-ranging conversation on May 2, associate professors of English Joanie Mackowski and Elisha Cohn explored how to write beyond the human at “In a Word.” The conversation in Klarman Hall’s Rhodes-Rawling Auditorium – which explored poetry and novels and touched on the environment, the anthropocene, Derrida and zoos -- was followed by a reception and more conversation in the English Lounge in Goldwin Smith Hall.

“We’re both dedicated in our work to what art can do to move beyond narrow experiences,” said Cohn during “In a Word,” such as writing poems from the perspective of a non-human being. “Literature can facilitate, can ask us to disencumber ourselves, from our very conventional ways of perceiving and at least for a little moment think a bit differently.”

“What science tells us, what we know, is we’re interrelated,” said Mackowski, who raised the question of whether a human speaking for an animal is a kind of appropriation. During the conversation, she read poems from her first book, “The Zoo,” as well as a more recent poem.

Mackowski is the author of “View From a Temporary Window” and “The Zoo,” which was awarded the Associated Writing Programs’ Award Series in Poetry and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Other awards include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Grant and the Emily Dickinson Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Her third collection of poems will explore lyric poetry from an ecocritical vantage point.

Cohn focuses her research on Victorian literature with an emphasis on the novel and theories of the aesthetic. Her book, “Still Life: Suspended Development in the Victorian Novel,” considers how states of reverie and trance shaped aesthetic forms. Her interests include the history of neuroscience, animal studies and affect theory. She has published numerous essays, including in Contemporary Literature, Victorian Studies and the Journal of Victorian Culture. Her new book explores the role of animals in contemporary world novels.

“In A Word” is sponsored by the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program. 


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 A male and female lion behind the bars of a zoo cage, looking out