Review by David McLean
The latest by Gillian Prew, who is the best currently active poet in my opinion, is a short full length that is inspired by the predicament of domestic animals and the meat industry. Fortunately it does its work by poems that gravitate around the theme, and adumbrate the problem, rather than preaching. The best argument for vegetarianism is purely aesthetic, like Freud’s prediction about why war would get less popular in the future, that one simply dislikes eating dead things, rather than the hedonistic or preferentialist utilitarian arguments that are not exactly probative.
This poem has blood in its ears/
it is being hauled up by a hook/
it is losing consciousness.
works better than the linguistic imprecision of the wooly arguments that sometimes purport to be reasoned defenses of the position. Prew presents the case as a subsidiary part of a general lacrimae rerum, the hardness of the conditions of life and the factitious emptiness of death. It is hard enough that things die anyway, in the blooming buzzing confusion that is also cruel and rather vulgar.
Droop-eye, me, lodged in a hole/all my sisters weightless now.
White, their gums, from blood-loss/their lost lowing high blue.
My one whole hoof shod with shit/my best bone a blade.
Clamped to the carousel with its thieving cups/its horror/my udder
droops milk for a week of babies. Fucked and forced with this life/
this breaking will hooked in the end in a concrete bowl of slaughters.
Shoved with drugs my blood is still mine/still flows in the green country.
What is this penance I have been set?/this unholy torture prized
from the bloody human hand and visited upon my sides. Sore, I am/
clamped here with misery/with a hell of bars biting about my head.
It is undoubtedly so that one may reject this latter without refusing to eat meat humanely produced. The factory farming procedure is Gestell. It is part of the remorseless appropriation that understands the world as things that are there and for use. The cow is standing reserve, for technological farming, it is there to be used as meat and the products of its body are also for use. It is part of growing human blindness not to see the cow as it is as organism, with presumably its own Dasein, its own presence in the world and relation to the same, and perhaps even some little mystery, that is not accessible to scientific appropriation.
Heidegger didn’t fuck around and said that “[a]griculture is not a motorized nourishment industry. essentially the same as the fabrication of corpses in gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of nations, the same as the hydrogen bomb.” (Bremer und Freiburger Vorträge, “Einblick in das was ist”)
Distances shrivel he said, and distances grow too. The scientific farmer thinks we are close to the truth of the animal, scientifically speaking; I would add that, emotionally speaking, we are miles away. There is no distance from the standing reserve (Bestand) but nor is there any proximity, it is the facile grabbing of the outward and obvious, the extraneous and the blindness to the essential – in this case Gillian’s cow.
And how great is the distance of a lady who worries that her cat kills animals? In what proximity does she dwell to the natural and the cat itself?
Anyway, the poems here are excellent, the book deserves buying. Before concluding I must point out that the fundamental problem is that there are way too many people. 500 000 000 seems reasonable, the same number as there are dogs, a far better animal. A deep ecological standpoint would make everything better for humans as well as animals, and there wouldn’t be so many humans to piss us all off.
World, damned hieroglyph,
your skin is not mine nor
do your fuchsias bend like bells for me.
It is hot today. I meet the sun alone –
more intimate than being born.
Too hot for human reason, yet
ants bear colossi round my feet
World is “a chandelier of hooks and throats” but under the world is the earth whence nature burgeons and blooms. When mankind learns to shepherd the world, to guard and watch over what there is and pass it on in all it surpassing excellence then maybe the chandelier can be dismantled, recycled a little. And there could be less cruelty and still cheeseburgers. Don’t forget, children, LESS PEOPLE PLEASE.
And while we await this signal improvement, buy this book.