To wrap up these posts about animals in speculative fiction, I chatted with the poet Eric Fisher Stone, a passionate lover of all living things.
PW: Great to have you, Eric. Could you introduce yourself and your work for the folx at home?
EFS: My name is Eric Fisher Stone. I’m originally from Fort Worth, Texas where I went to public schools and college at Texas Christian University. I volunteered at a nature center where I cared for captive wild animals that couldn’t be released, and worked in different retails jobs while the economy slowly recovered, until I applied to MFA programs. I was accepted at Iowa State University, which is for the best, I think, due to the program’s emphasis on place and the environment, which also reflects my creative work. My work is mainly poetry.
My poems usually range from narrative poems, formal and informal lyrical poems, and they usually delve into an otherness larger than humanity, and certainly larger than the self. That otherness can be nonhuman animals, like snails or deer, or in my most recently published book, The Providence of Grass, the affirmative driving force behind the cosmos—what makes gravity happen, what causes the stars to burn, not simply a causal “equal and opposite reaction” to inanimate forces, and not a supernatural intelligence hierarchically greater than matter, rather, my poems celebrate the earth and the cosmos as miraculous, living realities. Rather than bemoan the demise of species, and possibly humanity during the Anthropocene, I want us to appreciate the miraculous revelation of the world. If we can’t appreciate what’s left, how will know what has value, and why we should save it?
PW: What was your path to environmentalism? Any books play a part in that journey?
EFS: As a kid my parents took me out west on camping trips to Big Bend National Park, on the border of far southwest Texas and northern Mexico where there are very large forms, open skies of glittering stars, mountains and boulders, canyons and rivers. I learned to love the Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystem, but I also became acutely aware of my parent’s backyard in Fort Worth, where I’d upturn rotting wood and cinderblocks just to stare in wonder at the insects, worms and pill bugs. I became entranced with not only the sublime immensity of mountains and big skies, but also what Blake called “a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” I got a microscope for my birthday and discovered worlds without end.
As a child I read lots of atlases and field guides to animals. During my teen years I thought writers were supposed to be grownups—a mistake to be sure!—so I read American realist fiction like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, DH Lawrence, from which I learned a lot, but only Lawrence seemed as mystical and romantic as me. I had a better aptitude for poetry, and in my late teens I read the English Romantic poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, (I couldn’t get that deep into Lord Byron as his vision seemed more personal than universal) where the imagination and the sublime were not discarded as irrational, childish ideas, but integral to a fuller experience of the world, and allows people to be more sensitive and ethical. Of course no list of mine is complete without Walt Whitman, because I am a US American, it’s impossible for me to be a romantic without being a disciple of Whitman. I read Spanish language authors later, Garcia Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude, Borges’ labyrinthine fantasies of the mind and spirit, and the poetry of Pablo Neruda. It’s hard for me to come with a complete list because so many writers have been influential to me in different periods of my life. But these are among my favorites, but not my only favorites. I have many more, well beyond the limited demographic of dead white males I listed. I like Yusef Komunyakaa, Mary Oliver and Luis Alberto Urrea. Ben Okri’s novel The Famished Road is a spectacular piece of magic realism most Americans haven’t read. And I love everything I’ve read by Haruki Murakami, both realist and fantastical.
PW: I didn’t read The Wind in the Willows until I was in my twenties, but even though it’s a “kids” book, I still read it at least once a year. What books about animals did you love as a kid? How about as an adult?
EFS: I loved and still love Charlotte’s Web. E.B. White’s tale describes the durability of true friendship that even survives death. I like how Watership Down by Richard Adams uses rabbits to create a new mythology, a mythology of and by rabbits. Surely other creatures have language. Our species in its arrogance will sometimes dismiss whale song or bird chirping as mere sound. It’s pretty clear midway through Melville’s Moby Dick that the white whale is not the villain--it’s American industrial capitalism, and the monster is us. My best friend growing was a male tricolor collie named Jamie (a male collie, my parents named him after a Scottish Doctor Who character) so I loved to read Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight in my early teens. When I began to read Orwell’s Animal Farm, I really wanted the animals to succeed in their revolution, and became sad when I realized the pigs were merely representations of human folly.
PW: Many science fiction and fantasy stories personify animals (or nonhuman beings in general). Brian Jacques’ Redwall series for example. Do you think there is value in personifying animals in literature?
EFS: Yes! But there is a fine line between personifying animals as stereotypes for people. Perhaps that’s why I never got that into Aesop’s Fables, because the animals aren’t there on their own terms, rather than foxes and snakes and turtles, they’re humans dressed as those creatures. Jack London also seemed to project his own brutalist vision of nature onto Buck, the dog, in The Call of the Wild. Richard Adams makes the rabbits more than just abstract representations of people in Watership Down and that’s why I like it.
PW: When you write about nonhuman beings in your work, what do you hope the reader feels?
EFS: I hope the reader experiences wonder, the exuberance of being and sharing the world with animals like deer, coyotes and the myriad species of mollusks, and other animals we have not discovered. I hope my readers experience joy and that I can help readers realize that happiness doesn’t come from achieving the right goals, it comes from appreciating the miracle before us. I mean, we share a planet with cute razorback musk turtles. That’s amazing!
PW: Any book suggestions for our readers?
EFS: American Primitive by Mary Oliver, The Book of Gods and Devils by Charles Simic, South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami, Animal’s People by Indra Sinha, The Famished Road by Ben Okri, and because too many people think Pablo Neruda only wrote love poems, Canto General translated by Jack Schmidt.
PW: Wonderful, thanks for virtually hanging out with me here at Nerds. Where can our readers find your work?
EFS: My first full length poetry collection just came out. Here it is on Amazon.
My poetry has been published in about 20 or so journals, including, but not limited to Poets Reading the News, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, The Hopper, The Lyric and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review.
PW: And finally, what is your favorite animal?
EFS: My favorite animal is a collared peccary, more commonly known as the javelina!
Posted by Phoebe Wagner. She can be found writing in the high desert and on Twitter @pheebs_w or phoebe-wagner.com