JAYA STENQUIST

Animal Afterlife is winner of the 2021 Airlie Prize and published through Airlie Press.
**winner of a Silver Nautilus Award for Poetry 2023


“Stenquist’s debut poetry collection serves as a contemporary bestiary for endangered life.

Albatross, Kākāpō, black-footed ferret—each is an animal that’s threatened by human expansion or climate disruption, and the author treats them with careful curiosity in these poems. Moving through a litany of mammals, birds, and insects, the narrator smoothly takes on the voices of various species, speaking as various fauna without attempting to speak for them. It’s a visceral rendition of creaturely experience, from the binturong’s cadences (“I sway / rhythm of body / air / body / tree”) to the northern hairy-nosed wombat’s delightful proclamation: “here are the things I am willing to give: / my back / the slope of my ass.” At times, the lines between species begin to blur. A Blackburn’s sphinx moth reminisces, “I miss being soft in the world / my time as a kitten in a basket,” and a black rhinoceros crosses into the inorganic, musing, “I am a rock / the earth and I / steady circle onward.” Through metaphor and analogy, different life forms are shown in tightly knotted relationships, with hierarchies dissolving even as the specificity of individual creatures is retained. In one of the epigraphs to the collection, philosopher Thom Van Dooren and anthropologist Deborah Rose argue that “what the current time demands is a genuine reckoning with ourselves as the agents of mass extinction.” This collection serves as a prime example of what such a reckoning might look like—propelled by the urgency of environmental collapse without slipping into didacticism, grappling with the weight of culpability without giving way to fatalism.

Compelling verse that attends to human and nonhuman creatures with equal curiosity.”

Kirkus Reviews



Animal Afterlife is a work of the highest insight. It should be read and taught alongside Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature, W.S. Merwin’s Migration, The Book of Job, The Heart Sutra. It should be handed out in NICU units, placed next to your dog’s ashes, read each morning as you wake. Where is the line between man and beast? Us and the extinct? To read Jaya Stenquist’s radiant debut is to finally know: there is no line. Each poem transfigured my last ideas about the boundaries of this life, the self, myself. Through Stenquist, the whole earth warns: it is only inside each other, we resurrect.”

– Rebecca Gayle Howell


“Without eyes / we are the only ones who really know beauty,” says the wolf spider in Jaya Stenquist’s inspired new collection Animal Afterlife. Here are poems littered with the wisdom of all god’s creatures, both animal and mythic, the ones born in their mothers’ mouths, and the human ones driven to search for what can never be lost. “O Great Remover of Innocence / have you ever been more / than silence?”

In Animal Afterlife, life’s hunger for experience is ultimately transformed into wonder. A fascinating read.

--Quan Barry


From the northern hairy nose wombat to the Cook Inlet beluga, the bestiary of Animal Afterlife presents a chorus of animal voices at the cusp of extinction. Bright with curiosity and imagination, Stenquist’s persona poems and essayistic lyrics dart and flitter among the terrors and degradations of contemporary life, yet alight again and again on beauty, pleasure, and vitality. “What strange joy I’ve known / being made animal on random days,” Stenquist writes, in lines that aptly describe the strange-making experience of these poems. Animal Afterlife’s seductively unsettling music and embodied ways of knowing invite us into a poetic ecosystem “apart from the comprehensible world,” and return us to that human world and its insidious logics no longer quite ourselves.  

--Chad Bennett