Autumn 15 WTC#1 Using animals in our writing
From Aesop’s Fables to Ted Hughes’s Crow, the stories we tell about animals are often stories about us. This exhibition goes on the trail of animals on the page, asking why they have come to play such an important role in literature for adults and children alike.
Fortunately, our first meeting was on a beautiful Autumn day, as we were going to be out and about, visiting the British Library, and then on to Camley Street Nature Reserve tucked away behind Kings Cross, to check out the urban wildlife, and write about what we saw.
But first, some introductions – dog or cat people? first pets? earliest wildlife memories?
And a look at how various writers have used animals –
Virginia Woolf was known by those who loved her as Goat. Her sister, Vanessa Bell, was called Dolphin. Woolf gave animal aliases to all her friends, and grew up with a menagerie of creatures, including a squirrel, a marmoset and a mouse called Jacobi. Her first published essay was an obituary to the family’s dog.An exhibition exploring animals on the page
From the earliest marks made by humans in caves to the modern-day internet full of cute cats, animals have been enduring media stars. Symbols of the sacred or the profane, the domesticated or the ferocious, animals have always fed our imagination helping us to make sense of the world and ourselves. Inspiring writers, poets, scientists and artists through the ages, a library can become the largest zoo in the world when you begin to track down the creatures lurking among the pages on the shelves.
Animal Tales explores what wild – and tamed – creatures say about us when they take on literary or artistic form and displays richly illustrated editions of traditional tales, from Anansi to Little Red Riding Hood. And be closer to nature with a soundscape based on the Library’s collection of sound recordings, with illustrations and poems by Mark Doty and Darren Waterston.
Hares I have seen
The first crashed a fence in a field near Shrewsbury.
It was after lunch of lamb slow-roasted for a night
and a day, its grease still slick on my fingers when she broke
from the stubble. I forgot her later when I sat on a swing
and cried. That time it was for loneliness.
The second raced the train taking me to Edinburgh.
A break in the hedge revealed for a blink the reach
of her stride, the gathering of feet beneath belly before
the hedge snapped back. I forgot her later when I cried
into moussaka. That time it was for loneliness and drink.
The third hung from a hook in a butcher’s in Ludlow.
Her legs were primly crossed and bound, her head
shrouded in muslin but there was no mistaking
the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail.
She was too big that close though her ears were shorn
because what good are ears when paying by weight?
I couldn’t forget her but by then I’d given up crying.
– Katherine Stansfield
(Check out the page ‘Animal Magic’ to see writing from the day)