Jen Hadfield is inspired by James Goodman’s unpublished poems (and a Trump protest)

This is an excerpt from the article. Read the full article in Magma 72


In April, Magma got in touch to invite me to write a poem for their Inspired series. What an excellent feature: it’s the most natural thing in the world for poets to write in dialogue with each other. When I’ve lost touch with my own poetic language, reading somebody else’s great poem almost always helps me get fluent again. Having recently been in conversation with James Goodman about his manuscript Stone Fairy Mountain Shrimp, which unflinchingly explores extinction, I wanted to share so many of his poems that Magma kindly let me roam more freely about his collection for this issue’s Inspired. His project directly offers us some stark choices, and presents a vital portrait of the curious and intricate ecosystems we stand to lose (are losing). I found I had a lot to say about how the collapse of our trans-species communities diminishes the human species. Ideas about monoculture, extinction and the increasingly suffocating materialism of global culture also felt inseparable from the Trump protest I recently attended in Glasgow.

In James’ poem Cuttlefish, the cephalopod’s flesh transmits a wild and genius “jazz of limbs and consternation — flash of moods and sternward looks — those armful dares — that pile of shrugs, ball of flickers, fire of ropes — […] thundernight of dappling — […]— unreasoned blackness —”.

I wish the language, Cuttlefish, were on the primary school curriculum. There may be an island in the Med, hardly an island, more a reef, where the last fisherman lives who understands the forked-lightning fricatives of that ancient tongue.

To the casual visitor today, the puffin, guillemot and kittiwake colony at Sumburgh Head in Shetland may seem, sound and smell like a healthy one, but populations are way down on historical figures. Kittiwakes are on the brink of extinction in Shetland. Guillemots from Shetland have been tracked hunting for the sand-eels that nourish and hydrate them over 200 miles away in Aberdeen (they can only carry one little fish at a time back to their cliff-bound partner and chick.) The condition of their guano suggests the birds are suffering liver problems due to dehydration. This crucial food used to be available right below the cliff colony, but sand-eels are scarce now, due to historic overfishing and pollution, while rising sea temperatures affect plankton abundance and availability and the hatching times of the sand-eel larvae.

Extinctions occur, I suppose, when we can’t grasp either finity or connectedness. Goodman’s solution is poetry’s solution: in the poem’s microcosm, in its perfect complete intricate detail, we can apprehend the universal. To approach the global crisis we need to attend to the local crisis. Isn’t approaching the global crisis by addressing local specificity one of the things poetry is best at?

Notes Towards a Protest

1. In response to Goodman’s poem Black, make a tiny white book, called The Little Book of Whitewash, or Monoculture, or A Good Read. ‘Figure-8′ binding in white thread. Cover is a folded corrugated-cardboard Amazon mailer, and should retain the Amazon logo. Pages are of tracing paper. On each page is a single capital letter in white gouache. First verso page has the M, the second spread has O, N; the third O, C and so on, making it hard to grasp the word MONOCULTURE in its entirety. Especially since the letters are painted back to back on the translucent paper. The tracing paper is nice, too, because it has the look of scar-tissue, both inflexible and fragile. The book should look as boring as possible.

2. Leaving the Trump protest in Glasgow, Louise Welch handed me her banner, a wrinkled cardboard Amazon mailer, on which she or someone had scrawled, in blue marker:


‘It’s a bit of a shit banner’, she said, but I carried it proudly even as it crawled down the length of dowel I impaled it on. Back home, I collaged the banner with white tracing paper ’tiles’, each with a capital letter spelling MONOCULTURE. Obscured: a piece of tarpaper from Faroe, an O made of mandolin strings, a portion of the OS map showing Rosneath, with its danger areas, its Gaelic mountains and the words ‘True North’. Also the sleeve notes from Birds of Chicago’s album ‘Love in Wartime’.

3. How hard would it be to make a globe out of tracing paper?

4. Riffing off Goodman’s curated selection from the Red List in Red List Consumer Price Index, and using only words from the CPI, evolve a series of new dominant species that might be endangered by the year 2318. Every year, several items are dropped and others added to the typical ‘basket’ proposed by the CPI. Try to create as enticing, suggestive, myth-laden names as “Shiny Pigtoe” and “Bent Treacle Mustard” and “Curved Golden Drop” with this banal, bland verbal material, which should represent a hybridisation of the natural and synthetic and can optionally be read as a portrait of the future human. In response to Goodman’s poem Black, this poem should shade from transparent to black through greyscale.


Read the full article in Magma 72.
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