Writing on sheep

Ecology, the animal turn and sheep in poetry

Sheep have been closely associated with humans for at least 10,000 years, but despite their ubiquity and association with agro-pastoral cultural landscapes, they are poorly represented in both poetry and in critical readings of pastoral texts. This book addresses that omission by applying concepts from the still emerging field of animal studies to an ecologically focused reading of poetry referencing sheep. The distinction between wild and domesticated species is called into question, with particular attention to Tim Ingold’s ideas about how hunters and pastoralists differ in the relations they have with animals. Pastoral literature is compared with what pastoralism means in agriculture and how it can produce landscapes with a high nature value. Poetry from the upland sheep-farming areas of western Britain is read from the viewpoint of the animal turn. The sheep-breeding practices of Dorset and Devon are explored through the poetry of Ted Hughes and Kay Syrad. Sheep and sheep keeping have been heavily involved in emigration of people, sheep and agricultural practice to the settler colonies, so readings of a small selection of poems from the USA and New Zealand are included to open the important topic of postcolonial reading of sheep poetry. The final chapter opens the question of whether sheep and poets have a future as the crisis deepens. The book makes a contribution to the literature of animal studies and ends with the question of whether the ethical case for a vegan lifestyle and low emissions means that the whole species is destined for extinction.

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