On lyric shame and extinction

David Farrier*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to a UN report published in 2019, up to one million species face extinction by 2100. Such a scale of loss outpaces language. Drawing on Denise Riley’s work on the autonomy of language, this article argues that contemplating extinction involves attending to language’s capacity to speak outside its context. Mindful of the 40% of amphibian life under threat of extinction, it examines three poems about frogs, by Paul Muldoon, Kathleen Jamie, and Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo, as instances of Riley’s concept of ‘lyric shame’, where the poet acknowledges the ‘voice of language itself … trying to speak’. Focusing on allusion, apostrophe, and ekphrasis (facets of the poem that involve a clinamen, a turn away from or towards the subject) it argues that the lyric poem – as an occasion where shame gives rise to song – can also be a vehicle for encountering the lament of long-neglected non-human voices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-156
JournalGreen Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • extinction
  • lyric
  • shame
  • allusion
  • multispecies


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