© 2006..2009 by Andreas Wittenstein. Some rights reserved. (CC)
We as a species are exterminating other animal species at a rate tens of millions of times faster than they evolve, and at a rate faster even than during any mass extinction in the geological record. Yet our technology has progressed so far that we no longer need to exploit or disturb other animals for food, materials, transportation, territory, or any other selfish purposes. In fact, our understanding has progressed so far that we now realize that we need to preserve other animals and our entire ecosystem in order for our own species to survive. To persist in capturing and killing other animals, whether for material gain, so-called sport, collection, or in the name of science, is thus not only unethical and murderous, but ultimately suicidal. Yet we retain our atavistic fascination with animals and our desire to capture them.
If we are to ensure the survival of other species —and ultimately our own— or even if we are merely to ensure their preservation in our memory, then we must sublimate these urges. Wildlife photographers who stalk animals unobtrusively with cameras instead of weapons have found one solution to this quandary, capturing their quarry with beautiful portraits to share with all humanity. Ethologists who study animals in their natural habitat have found another, capturing animals' behavior with numbers and prose. A third solution, pursued here, is to substitute ‘poetry’ for ‘poachery’, capturing the animals in spirit only.
As compared to pictorial and scientific portraiture, poetry has the disadvantage of being difficult to translate to other languages. Nevertheless poems, when crystallized with a tight phonological structure, have the advantage of memorability, enabling us to accurately preserve, reproduce, and disseminate them with nothing more than the minds, mouths, and ears we are born with.
Many of the finest extant poems ostensibly about other animals are really about humans portrayed as animals for amusement, moral education, political commentary, or other purposes. In my opinion, it takes relatively little imagination or empathy for a human to picture a mouse as a miniature human in a mouse costume, wonderful as that exercise may be. In contrast, truly understanding what it's like to be a mouse is dauntingly difficult; But I'm convinced that it can be just as entertaining, and, ultimately, far more profound an experience.
In crafting these Animal Poacheries, I have done my utmost to make them at once catchy and scientifically accurate. As a measure of their catchiness, the most common comment I receive upon reciting one of these tongue-twisting ear-tripping mind-tangling poems is “Again!”. In regards to their scientific relevance, I have tried to avoid anthropomorphizing these animals in any way here: They do not speak human languages, have human names, wear human clothing, wield human tools, nor engage in human rituals nor any other unnatural behavior for our entertainment. To lure the reader into further exploring these creatures, each poem is thoroughly annotated on a companion page of textual notes. The explanations in these notes are based on the studies I did of these animals in preparation for writing the poem, but I have attempted to augment and update them to reflect current scientific understanding, and would appreciate corrections from knowledgeable readers.
Despite their factual basis, Animal Poachery do not shy away from our human and cultural prejudices or aim for detached objectivity. These poems are written by a human, and meant to be read by humans. Our emotional attitudes to many animal species run very deep, some engrained through thousands or millions of years of social and biological evolution, and as such they need to be acknowledged and tackled, rather than denied.
Animal Poachery is not intended strictly for children, and does not condescend to any preconceived notion of what children are capable of learning. Indeed, much of the vocabulary in these poems is beyond the ken of most English-reading adults —as is, I hasten to point out, much of the vocabulary in traditional Mother Goose rhymes. In reading these works to various audiences over the years, I have consistently found that people of all ages delight in their sound-play regardless of how much they understand on the first or hundredth hearing, and the less-inhibited children among them jump up and down with glee.
Most of these Animal Poacheries were conceived as songs, in which form they are even easier to remember. As soon as I find the time, I will add recordings to complement the sheet music in order to share the melodies. My intent has also been to illustrate the poems by designing fonts whose letters resemble the animals, but that task has so far been beyond my reach.
People often ask whether I've written Animal Poacheries about this or that other animal. I actually find it ironic that I wrote all these poems about animals, when, other than humans, animals have always interested me less than plants. A lot of scientific and linguistic research, fired by fickle inspiration, goes into crafting a poem of this quality. I would love to have the leisure to write many more such poems, but these are all I have for now. In any case, there are far more species of animals in the world than I could touch upon even if I had a lifetime of leisure to do so, and far more that could be written about each of these animals than I have already done, so I encourage others to take up the task. In the meantime, enjoy!
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