Becoming-Animal Debate – Part Three


We’ve got two poems to share with you today, inspired by the Becoming-Animal debate that took place last Saturday. Just a reminder of the challenge we set our creative writing team – attendance at the debate and our Exile exhibition, and then 24 hours to respond either in poetry or prose to the question of the relationship between becoming-animal and ecological activism.

Both of today’s poets deal with the relationship between activism, education and art. In her reflective comments on the debate, Emma Hughes suggests that it is part of the artistic work “to reconnect people and children to the natural world, in order for children to grow up feeling a responsibility to protect the planet and work to mitigate the damage being done”. Yet it isn’t the writer she voices in her beautiful poem “I took them to the woods” but the mother, not the forging of the linguistic fantasy but the craft of reality, that of bringing up a child. Emma chose to respond to the heated discussion about how to make real change by representing a parent doing just that. Her poem explores the exhilaration and worry implicit in any decision made for the family that goes against social norms and civilised safety. We feel in it both the joy of wilderness education and the instinctive maternal concern for a child “becoming-animal”; adding another layer of complexity to the idea that to become animal is to better understand ourselves. In philosophy this may be all very well, but for a child who must also be brought up human?

Miranda Sue Lethbridge has taken an entirely different approach, questioning the relationship between writing with an explicitly moral message, her poem is a lighthearted and yet philosophical consideration of the relationship between humanity and the meanings we make of the natural world.

I took them to the woods

It was my decision,

as if I created them again,

didn’t give them a choice.

Right from naming them,

deciding which aunt

could hold them, and which

could not, I’d shaped them.

Now I reshape them.

We camped out

for the summer’s warm months.

The first night in the tent

was hot, and the beds

not as comfy as I’d hoped.

In the morning I found

the children’s sleeping bags

curled by the fire.

I called them to breakfast,

their last with milk.

I have so many food supplies,

and an arrangement with the farmer,

who’d leased me the land,

for deliveries until my garden

was established. But we

are going to do things differently.

The children aren’t interested

in building the cabin.

They roam for hours,

bringing back stories of old nests

and tiny skeletons. They carry nothing,

no water bottles, no food, no toys.

Our clothes have assumed one colour and texture.

The children can be bribed

to pound them in the tiny stream

that runs from the spring.

I shiver to think of washing

in that water come the winter,

but even now we smell Autumn approaching

the children’s hard feet do not find their shoes,

and their smell is gentle, their hair

only a tang of wet coat when it rains.

I listen to the rustlings and calls each day,

amused by the children’s desire to blend

with the woods, and glide amongst

the small creatures. Sometimes I need

a break from building and gardening,

and walk the faint trails.

I find small piles of coloured stones,

and strung feathers.

The supplies are holding out well,

lasting far longer than expected.

I’ve had my early croppers,

and the over-winter vegetables

are well established.

The children eat sparsely at meals,

instead bringing me roots and berries,

a handful at a time, the rest staining their lips.

I think of Winter, and wonder if then

they will be contained by the cabin

and let me hold them.

— Emma Hughes



When did it happen

the split, the divide?

We’re really just one

deep down inside.

Our planet so delicate

under its skin.

In fact soft and gooey

deep down within.

We pillage and rape it

near through to the core.

But being human, today

we always want more.

Are we the disease

of this wonderful place?

In being human, today

have we all lost our grace?

And – is this just word play

a poet’s thoughts on the page,

or will you read on

and try to engage?

By being human, today

we all have a voice.

Each single one of us

makes our own choice.

And – this word ANIMAL

truly, what does it mean,

so many definitions

perhaps something unseen?

Food and water, shelter, love

is all we actually need.

But being human, today

perpetuates greed.

Take a step outside,

go for a walk

and using your senses

forget about talk.

Head for green spaces

watch swaying trees:

big, strong and beautiful,

listen to the leaves.

Is this becoming ANIMAL

picking blackberries from a hedge

a connection to the natural world,

not a divide or an edge?

One small step towards

a return to your roots.

Even if you don’t possess

the latest hiking boots.

It’s not too late

of that this poet is sure,

and as I finish this

I’ll walk out the door.

In my Birkenstocks J

— Miranda Sue Lethbridge