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Poetry Canadian

Bestiary, The

by (author) Dennis Cooley

Turnstone Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2020
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2020
    List Price

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Cooley conducts a chorus of "clucks & barks & muffled cries" to unconstrained cacophony. Bursting with a remarkable and encompassing cast of spiders and fish, crows and bears, rats, chickens, and cows, The Bestiary gives free rein to very human feelings and the way they grow, stunt, and stampede out on the prairie landscape. Amid hushed and howling moments, the natural bends uncanny while the extraordinary roots into the organic under Cooley's careful eye.

About the author

Dennis Cooley grew up in Estevan, Saskatchewan, and attended the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Rochester. He is an active member of the writing community in Winnipeg and teaches at St. John’s College, University of Manitoba. His latest book of poetry is the bentleys (2006).

Nicole Markotić is a poet and critic who teaches at the University of Windsor and edits the chapbook publication Wrinkle Press. She has published two poetry books, Connect the Dots and Minotaurs & Other Alphabets, as well as a fictional biography of Alexander Graham Bell, Yellow Pages. She is currently completing a novel.

Dennis Cooley's profile page


  • Short-listed, High Plains Book Award for Poetry

Excerpt: Bestiary, The (by (author) Dennis Cooley)

the creatures

you've got to remember

your Ps and Qs

all the glitches in our plans

the years of itches & clichés

the geese queuing

the ditches chowdered with tadpoles

you would have sworn

frogs were emeralds and they shone

saskatoons sharpened on sun

turned to tart & gooseberries

screwed up on their spindly legs

berries swollen so large and pale a person

could almost see through

there also was the cow called Esmeralda

whose hormones blew past

a ruddy and sometimes luminous moon

and sandhill cranes would wade

the hills in quadrille and the prairie

chickens ran thickly in front

of the chilled morning

they square-danced and dosey-doed

high-stepped in front of the old truck

almost stopped the stupid things

dead in their tracks and coyotes

coaxed the moon from their throats

a time when

potatoes rolled out of the ground

big as cabbages round

as groundhogs the rain

fell hard or softly

found the just and the un

just in the Souris

Valley and on the fields

of France pulled january

across the cold

foxes trotted over

the sheets we pulled

over our breath

quick to give and find

where they left their tracks

and do you dream the secret hay

the smell of flowers

when you let yourself back

into the soft dust

its tea and yielding

spring summer winter fall

the moon cracked open

leaked marrow over

our upturned faces

Editorial Reviews

There are other tongues apart from our mother tongues that influence how we understand language, the sounds breathed by the lungs of beasts in the field and sung from the mouths of beasts on the wing. Dennis Cooley speaks in those tongues, animal and human, rendering them with poems about eight-eyed charlatans and black-beaked hucksters. The Bestiary is a Naturalis Mysteria, an encyclopedia of mysteries discovered in an uncanny land by Pliny of these prairies. It is a meta-Metamorphoses, a translation of myths uncovered in an unreliable library by our postmodern Ovid.
-- Nathan Dueck, A Very Special Episode

The world shines with life, with mystery, animated by animals, and in The Bestiary Cooley gives voice to it all. Compressing coal-black crows to diamond, Cooley crafts jewelled lines.
--Jonathan Ball, The National Gallery

Filled with owlish wisdom, this bestiary hovers, swoops, and tilt-wings, as the crow flies, over the contours of a prairie and its species unique to Dennis Cooley, his tender observations, his wild surmise.
--Aritha van Herk

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