Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means a of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
This week, we’ll look at The True Book of Animal Homes (Saturnalia Books, March 2017), a new poetry collection by Allison Titus that is “obsessed with animal and human alike, and how each one of us makes our home in the stations we hold.”
It’s clear from her website that Titus is an animal person—she has an entire Tumblr devoted to furry and feathery creatures, where she collects images, videos, poems by the likes of W.S. Merwin, and interesting links and websites. She did something similar for her previous poetry collection, The Sum of Every Lost Ship, where she collected a scrapbook of material on the collection’s theme.
The True Book of Animal Houses explores the idea and the question of “wildness”—what it means, who is allowed to posses it, its landscapes and hidden depths.
Poet and animal rights activist Ashley Capps (Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields) says of the collection:
Half lament, half heartbroken blueprint, The True Book of Animal Homes makes a plaintive case for improved attention, fellowship, and empathy, imploring us to heed the hidden lives our choices imperil; not just the human ones, and not just the nonhuman ones; but also the lives we ourselves could be living.
This “obsession” with animals isn’t a new one for Titus. Her first chapbook was called Instructions from the Narwhal and also featured poems on animals and the more-than-human world. But make no mistake, Titus’s poetry is not cutesy or fluffy. It is unflinching and brutal, but true.
In “Essay on Economies of Scale,” she writes:
This morning on the kill floor
the piglet tried to nuzzle the worker Like a puppy,
the worker says, It happens all the time.
There the desire for connection, for comfort, and there the casual dismissal, and there, the seed of the idea that perhaps we’re going about this all wrong (or, as Capps put it, “the plaintive case for improved attention, fellowship, and empathy”).
Pick up a (signed!) copy of The True Book of Animal Homes from Chop Suey Books, an independent bookstore in Richmond, Virginia, where Titus currently lives. If you’re in the area, Titus will be giving a reading this Thursday, March 16, at 7 p.m. with Wendy DeGroat and Jensen Beach.