Sounding the Non-Human in John Clare and Maggie O'Sullivan

Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Writing centuries apart and with striking aesthetic differences, the poetries of John Clare and contemporary poet, performer and visual artist Maggie O'Sullivan nevertheless provide rich resonances and pathways for ecopoetic practice when read alongside each other.

O'Sullivan's rural locale of West Yorkshire provides the "infinite environment of ...winged pathings...utterances and hearings, deconstructing/re-constituting-as-(being)-heard," expressed through works such as Waterfalls (2009) and murmur (2011), while Clare's rural Northamptonshire likewise inspires a "crow /Croaked music" of non-human life forms to pulse through many of his lyrics.

This article looks at both the shared and differing formal choices taken by these two distinct writers with common aims. For example, while both Clare and O'Sullivan can be classed (to varying degrees) as linguistically innovative poets, disrupting grammatical conventions and shifting lexicons between the human and animal, other factors, such as O'Sullivan's focus on the visual and Clare's invoking of the pastoral, lead to very different poetic outcomes.

Ultimately, however, the article aims to show how the " voicings/breathings/existences" in Clare and O'Sullivan create an ecopoetic practice that explores shared animal experience while avoiding simple anthropomorphism. These are poetries that tune down the anthropocentric in order to hear the "other than human" ; a particularly valuable undertaking during times (then, as now) when such species risk the permanent silence of extinction due to increased threats to their natural environments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe John Clare Society Journal
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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