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First Takes with Rebecca Hazelton

Rebecca-Hazelton

These poems are from a series which all have “Animal” in the title. I wrote my first “Animal” poem after reading an online interview with Zachary Schomberg in BOMB magazine. I thought it was very smart that he saw the animals in his poems as characters that couldn’t threaten the speaker’s loneliness because they were, after all, animals.

I immediately thought about our ambivalence as humans to the fact that we are ourselves animals. We mark our territory, we fight for mates, we are driven by drives that perplex us in their intensity. At times it is a comfort to embrace our animal inclinations, while at other times we do everything in our power to deny the connection. Yet we are connected to the animal world, as uncomfortable as it may make us. There’s even a recently discovered portion of our brain that specifically lights up when we see one.

Certainly from an evolutionary standpoint this makes sense; the animal might be prey, or might eat us. Yet we’re one of the few creatures (though not the only) that will adopt other animals as companions. We want some sort of understanding; we believe our dogs love us. We want to believe the dog’s love for us is a human love, though it’s a dog’s love, really. There’s a connection with the animal world we crave, even as we work to distinguish ourselves from that world, to intellectualize our needs as wants, our collective drives as individual and special desires. It feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of our selves, and I think that misunderstanding creates a particular loneliness. And maybe it’s that loneliness that distinguishes us as other than animal, after all. In these poems, I try to think about what makes us human, what makes us animal, and the challenge of being both.


Rebecca Hazelton attended The University of Notre Dame for her MFA in poetry, and completed her PhD at Florida State University. She was awarded a fellowship year as the Jay C. and Ruth Hall Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Creative Writing Institute, and also received a fellowship from Vermont Studio Center. Hazelton teaches creative writing at Beloit College. D.A. Powell chose her poem "Book of Janus" for inclusion in Best New Poets 2011.