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Durham University

Centre for Cultural Ecologies

Extinction Elegies

Christmas Island Pipistrelle

(Ed. Thomas Bristow)

During the course of 2018 and 2019, Tom will be working with various poets to develop a book for Litter Toller that can be used in secondary schools in Britain and Australia. Durham Centre for Poetry and Poetics, University of Leeds Environmental Humanities & Extinction Studies groups, alongside Sydney Environment Institute and Red Room Australia, will help Tom bring together poets and academics to put science and art into conversation. Each newly commissioned poem will be complemented by a micro-essay detailing the pressures placing the particular species into extinction.


Extinctions remind us how human life is implicated in the life of others. As extinction becomes central, if not definitional, in our age of degeneracy, it is timely for us to consider how some species are adapting to environmental change and others are not. Species and habitats are not fixed; however, accelerating global environmental change increasingly marks our present moment leading towards the next ‘great extinction’: the sixth on our planet in its history. As dynamic responses to environmental affordances and human practices, species register a peculiar body politics: they disclose specific cultural and biological temporalities in sites of encounter and co-habitation. Such sites of destruction and loss are the very challenging and unprecedented contexts for a series of poems focused on species and habitats as key markers in evolutionary cooperation and adaptation.

Many spectacular, beautiful and iconic species have disappeared over the past few centuries; many unknown species have disappeared and others have come into being while the rate of species loss is far greater than science suggests is safe or even ‘natural’. Our emotional and evaluative perspectives on past life, past species and past habitats can take on lyrical forms quite independent of the visual perspective we use to remember events and objects. In Extinction Elegies, twenty-four poets from Australia and UK consider the ways we are drawn into the death of others. These poets take the elegy—traditionally limited to seriously reflecting on loss within the realm of human experience—and transform it through their lyrical attention to the more-than-human world. Moving through iconic species and habitats to the unrecorded and unknown lives and livelihoods that have coloured our world, these poets witness and record how particular species and habitats have either given rise to specific experiences that are no longer possible or are on the cusp of vanishing before us. In working through our human sensitivity to loss, the cultural politics of memory, and the conditions for consolation and its postponement through griefwork, these elegies remind us how habitat loss and species loss can be parsed through an ecological framework alert to complex relationships, ultimately pointing towards positive affects of inclusion, cooperation, acknowledgement and trust.