The word “endling” means the last individual of a species or
sub-species. It has not yet been included in the Oxford English
Dictionary. It is probably only a matter of time.
Endlings takes us across continents and through the long expanse of aeons to give voice to the dead. In poems that are lyrical, exact, and deeply melancholic, Joanna Lilley demands audience for the final moments of animal extinction. From the zebra-horse quagga and chiding dodo, to the giant woolly mammoth and delicate Xerces Blue Butterfly, the haunting, urgent words of these “endlings” cut to the bone to expose the brutality of Nature and the devastating repercussions of human ignorance and intent, while giving hope that our humanity will help save what remains.
We are so disconnected from nature we think it’s the economy that makes our lifestyles and lives possible. In fact it’s the complex web of nature within which we are inextricably linked and on which we are utterly dependent.
When a species disappears, that complex web of life loses resilience and productivity. This book is a reminder of what we have lost within human memory. It’s a frightening reminder that Nature is our Mother and source of life.
Endlings moved and changed me. Joanna Lilley’s clear vision and assured craft affirm that it’s too late for the passenger pigeon, nearly for the northern white rhinoceros, but not for the living and not for art. ‘Perhaps we can augment / our aptitude for wonder,’ Lilley ventures. In honouring the lost, these poems invite and sometimes command us to attend and to mourn. To embrace their wonder is to commit to living differently.
—Stephanie Bolster, A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth
Endlings offers an untold history from the voices of extinct and extant animals. Watch as a boy shoots the last Labrador duck out of hunger, and cringe. Be condemned by the dodo and the ivory-billed woodpecker; condemned for the things that have died without us even knowing. Joanna Lilley gives the mythology of lost creatures and shows how myth can blind. Careful of what is underfoot, she reminds, it may be an endling.
—Yvonne Blomer, As if a Raven
Suggested Book Club discussion questions for Endlings by Joanna Lilley
1. Describe this poetry collection in three words or fewer
2. Which poem(s) stuck with you the most? Why?
3. Within the context of the book, what does it mean to be a member of the human species in 2020? How has our understanding of our place in the world evolved over the past decade?
4. What emotions did you experience while reading this collection of poems?
5. What effect did the poet create for you, the reader, by including poems about both ancient and more recent extinctions in this collection?
6. How do you think the tone of the collection would have been affected if the book had been divided into two sections—ancient vs. recent extinctions—rather than having these poems intermixed as they currently are?
7.Some of the poems are not dedicated to one specific species (e.g., pages 66, 70-74, 96-101, 109). How does the tone of these poems differ from the others in the collection?
8. How does this collection address the current environmental crisis? Find examples in the book. What is the poet’s reaction towards this reality?
9. How does writing about extinct animals help living creatures?
10. Some of the poems speculate about using science and technology to revive some extinct species (e.g., “In Białowieża Forest,” “Necrofauna,” “Seven”). Do you think de-extinction is a good idea? Why or why not?
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