I’m greatly preoccupied by how we live alongside our fellow species in this world as well as those who no longer exist in body. While I try to bear witness I have never been able to work out how to deal with the harm that humans inflict on nonhuman animals. I am also very mindful that humans are a recent development in evolutionary terms and yearn to be able to connect with, honour and learn from species who existed long before we did. I’m also very passionate about sharing the joy of words with other readers and writers and love giving workshops and connecting in that way. I’m wondering if my response to this question in an interview I gave with my publisher might be helpful int he context of the borrowed-time initiative and my experience with loss and grief: 1. This collection must have been very difficult to write, given the heartbreaking nature of extinction and the knowledge that humans have played a direct role in the loss of so many species. What strategies did you use to cope with the feelings that resulted from writing this collection? Yes, it was a difficult collection to write but it also felt necessary to write it. It helped me delve into and examine my lifelong worry about animals. I’ve never understood why as a species we are capable of causing other animals so much suffering or why so many people forget we are animals too. So in a sense the collection itself was a strategy for creating something out of all that concern and preoccupation, as well as dealing with the knowledge that humans have caused demise of so many species. My intention in writing Endlings was very much to honour, acknowledge and celebrate animals that are no longer with us. It sounds fanciful and even grandiose, I know, but I wanted to somehow connect with them across history and try to listen to their voices and translate what they were saying into human language. It was a heartbreaking project but it became such a privilege to spend time with each creature and learn about them and try to imagine what their lives and consciousness were like. There was perhaps an unintended strategy at play as well. I didn’t of course know it would happen but while I was writing the poems in Endlings I went through four bereavements as well as almost losing my father. My dog died, then seven months after that my sister, then seven months after that my mother, then five months after that my cat. I know it might not seem right to some people to include a dog and a cat in same list as a sister and mother and part of me wants to justify that by pointing out that I don’t have children. But regardless of differing opinions about what a proper hierarchy of grief should be, losing my animal friends broke my heart. All this accumulated, personal loss became, I think, an underlying emotion or undercurrent in the collection, even though my original, impossible wish was to try to step out of human experience and let the animals speak for themselves. (The above interview is at: https://www.turnstonepress.com/bird-on-a-wire/quatrain-questions-with-joanna-lilley.html) I’ll also include my more formal biography in case that’s of interest: Author Joanna Lilley’s latest collection of poetry, Endlings, is all about extinction and was published in 2020 by Turnstone Press in Canada. Joanna’s other poetry collections are If There Were Roads (Turnstone Press) and The Fleece Era (Brick Books) which was nominated for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. She’s also the author of a novel, Worry Stones (Ronsdale Press), which was longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, and a short story collection, The Birthday Books (Hagios Press). Joanna has given readings all across Canada and in the US and the UK and has delivered workshops as far afield as Alaska and Iceland. Her essay, ‘Do We Have the Right to Write About Animals’, was published in Writing for Animals (Ashland Creek Press) in the US in 2018. She has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde and is a Humber School for Writers graduate. Joanna is from Britain and moved to Canada in 2006, 15 years after cycling alone across the country from Nova Scotia to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. She lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she co-founded the Yukon Writers’ Collective Ink, and is grateful to reside on the Traditional Territories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.
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