Winner of the Omnidawn Poetry Chapbook Prize
selected by Brian Teare
This is a study of parasitic intimacy, of unregressable cohabitation – when an animal finds its one true other and survives consuming them. To be the entire world for another, where we are eaten raw by this need, and the constant effort of a companion to keep our harms small, forgivable. This work lays claim to who ‘we’ are, and new ways speak about ‘us’. This is poetry founded in the biological study of parasitic roundworms and the language through which we have come to understand them. There is something here for all of us – a way of knowing that we are not alone – and the lifelong care that we must attempt for each other. Against our obligated traumas, be gentle and we both survive this.
Following the dog down situates us in relation’s hidden and quiet violence. Its highly compressed prosodic, sonic, and syntactical textures torque toward elegance, yes, but they’re elegant in the way that parasites are designed to do a kind of damage that nourishes them. This work pains us because it asks human readers to consider their own participation in cycles of nutritive wounding: “while I eat and am eaten/to survive my body longer/in the mouths of others…we’re all hurting.” This paradox – that some beings must find survival in the violence they do to others – pushes us to the ethical edge of questions about being-in-relation, about the meeting and intertwining of the lives of species. Unsettled at the edges of my pronoun, I find myself in awe of the knowledge John Liles renders with such clarity and humility: “because I asked for help/and was helpless//here I am harming/you.”
Brian Teare, judge of the Omnidawn Poetry Chapbook Contest
John Liles is a poet, science writer, and living mammal.
His work is predicated on academic and archival research – a writing process that necessitates achieving an organic/animal understanding of the present surviving phenomenon. Aiming to establish new interdisciplinary space between the arts and sciences, Liles holds to a self-established canon where the scientific must remain true.
Following the dog down stands as debuting book of poetry. Visit www.JohnLiles.com for further work, access to nematode information, or to establish contact. Cross-discipline collaborative inquires met with full heart.
John Liles’s “Following the dog down”captures the mysterious essence governing the parasitic relationship between worm and host. Liles quietly reminds us that the consumption of another involves the desperate implosion of passion, necessity, and existential desire as well as the base force of animal hunger. Liles’s own description of his poignant yet critical celebration of parasitic intrigue, exploitation, and mutual dependency best recommends this terrifying yet remarkably spiritual book: “I write out of a need to reconcile the fact that I am a human in this world.
the little atom
of someone else’s
and a honeybee’s
worth of voltage
that you left out
(to ignite the animal’s engines)
utmost long worms
kissing you goodbye