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Animals with Human Voices

In Animals with Human Voices you will find worms that dream of god, jellyfish weary of immortality, a powerless Superman, some illogical observations on aliens’, a lightning conductor tired of lightning and the truth about Elvis.  In multi award-winning poet Damen O’Brien’s debut collection, his cinematic eye and love of nature deliver poems which are ciphers for the normal concerns of every human: love, life and death and what we leave behind.

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104 September 2021 9780645008951 , ,
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In Animals with Human Voices you will find worms that dream of god, jellyfish weary of immortality, a powerless Superman, some illogical observations on aliens’, a lightning conductor tired of lightning and the truth about Elvis.  In multi award-winning poet Damen O’Brien’s debut collection, his cinematic eye and love of nature deliver poems which are ciphers for the normal concerns of every human: love, life and death and what we leave behind.

“What a magnificent book this is. These are poems of clean, disentangled vision, they are profound responses to a difficult world, exploring climate change, extinction, human behaviour, the limitations of culture and technology, enquiries into the nature of truth and existence—the language is robust, startlingly imaginative. O’Brien has the skill of a seasoned master, yet this is his first volume. I am awestruck by the depth of his thinking, by his content, his ability to make each poem light up singular, necessary truths.”

Judith Beveridge

“In Animals With Human Voices award-winning Queensland poet Damen O’Brien turns his agile, inquisitive gaze to the small to contemplate and interrogate the large. Worms, trilobites, spiders, an ermine, oysters, jellyfish, bees, corellas, chickens, sheep, dogs, toads, and goats are just a few of the insects and animals that appear in the book’s opening pages. In poems that ebb and flow between finely observed detail and abstract ideas, that oscillate between past and future, that shift in tone from whimsical to ironic, the animals and insects provide an entrance to the exploration of faith, meaning, life, history, mortality, impermanence, and extinction, among many other concerns. The result is a fascinating and richly rewarding collection that invites repeated readings. ”

David Adès

‘A multi-layered exposition of the various ways we can enact our human capabilities, this is a book attuned to the fragilities of the natural word and of human relationships. There is a keen eye at work – great sensitivity, compassion and precision – which, through sharp images and unexpected turns, works to reframe our place among the creaturely, offer a subtle look into our interconnections with ourselves, our gods and our environments, and press us to interpret the consequences of our paradigms.’

Judges Comments, 2021 Anne Elder Award – Highly Commended

‘Damen O’Brien’s Animals with Human Voices ranges over numerous important subjects, including climate change, the relationship of human beings to the natural world, geographical time, visual art, and the vigour of the imagination. His language moves eloquently and impressively, whether he is voicing a worm’s point of view, the ‘ocular dominance’ of a Trilobite or the existential weariness of a jellyfish. He considers such issues as the purposes of dust and the movement of time; the consumption of fossil fuels; the making of maps; the characteristics of truth and belief; and the earth’s future. These are serious matters expressed in subtle ways. However, there is also playfulness aplenty in this volume as O’Brien leavens his darker concerns with a keen appreciation of human irrationality and a finely-honed sense of the absurd. This book is partly a lament for the human condition and environmental damage, and partly a celebration of the power of poetry to speak eloquently about complex issues. It is thoughtful, ethical and always highly articulate.’

Judges Comments, 2022 Mary Gilmore Award – Shortlisted

Read Geoff Page’s review here.

Read Sarah Day’s review here.

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