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  • Shannon Maguire's Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina and Queer Ecopoetics
  • Heather Milne

The title of shannon maguire's collection of poems Myrmurs: An Exploded Sestina (2015) is derived from the word "myrmecology," a branch of entomology dedicated to the study of ants. Sestinas are tightly structured poems with intricate patterns of repetition. The sestina dates back to the twelfth century, was widely used by the troubadours, and is rooted in the tradition of courtly love. Maguire's Myrmurs "explodes" or "blows up" (both in the sense of fragmenting and magnifying) this poetic form in order to create a book-length sestina that takes as its focus two things that appear on the surface to have little in common: ants and queer community. By bringing together ants and queerness through the sestina, Maguire participates in the development of a queer, posthuman ecopoetics that builds on Catriona Mortimer Sandilands and Bruce Ericson's understanding of a "queer ecology," in which sexual politics and our perceptions of nature inflect and inform one another. Poetic form is very material and poetic process is very agential, which makes poetry a particularly complex and fruitful form for ecocritical engagement, and because Maguire brings queerness directly to bear on poetic form and process Myrmurs offers an important contribution to a discussion of both queer ecology and queer poetics. [End Page 91]

Myrmurs is the second book in Maguire's medievalist trilogy that begins with fur(l) parachute (2013) and concludes with Zip's File (forthcoming). Fur(l) parachute engages the Old English poem "Wulf and Eadwacer," an enigmatic nineteen-line poem that is perhaps an elegy, perhaps a riddle, and perhaps a women's lament (106). Maguire "bends the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition" (email to author) in this book in an effort to break the silence they have felt as a queer person of Métis and Irish ancestry. Zip's File also engages medieval literary forms, this time working mainly with the epic romance, from a queer and decolonial perspective. The books in this trilogy demonstrate Maguire's striking ability to work within, while simultaneously bending, rupturing, queering, and decolonizing old English and Medieval poetic forms in order to explore their rich and subversive potential. Maguire explains that, collectively, the three books examine how Western culture has "influenced the literary, cultural, sexual, and political bodies that we're living inside now" and consider the role English has played in "transmitting, producing, circulating, and maintaining gender, racial, and sexual difference" (McLennan).

Myrmurs contributes to this line of inquiry through its use of the sestina to explore living systems from a queer, feminist, posthuman perspective. Traditionally, the sestina has often taken the form of a complaint against unrequited love, injustice, immorality, or other matters. Maguire radically reimagines complaint in their1 exploded sestina not just to draw attention to the injustices of heteronormativity, capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchal structures but also to imagine radical alternatives. The ants do not function in these poems as a metaphor for understanding queer communities since positing ants as a metaphor renders them subordinate and secondary to human communities. Rather, ants exist as agents in their own right, agents whose activities intersect and mirror those of humans but who also remain somewhat mysterious and unknowable and who disrupt and disperse meaning throughout the book. Maguire explains that they wanted to make ants the love "subject" rather than the more conventional love "object" of their exploded sestina in an effort to reorganize desire and evade the conventional hierarchy inherent in the poet-love object relation (email).

As Marianne Shapiro has noted, the sestina, with its specific patterns of repetition, manifests the displacement of the love object central to the courtly love tradition: "For at the instant when an object is displaced, its uniqueness, even its being as an unattained object, is displaced, and the [End Page 92] naming word makes room for another. The revolution of homonyms in the sestina are uniquely conducive to the re-enactment of the quest for the disappearing object, because the circle repeated is never quite closed" (6). As love subject, the ants in Maguire's exploded sestina resist and subvert the displacement and the objectification of the female...


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