An Introduction to Animals of Dawn by Bronwyn Mills

ANIMALS OF DAWN is a long poem by Murat Nemet-Nejet which riffs off of what T.S. Eliot famously called Shakespeare’s artistically failed play, Hamlet. In commenting on the play, Nemet-Nejat describes its language as irrational, hurtling towards “un-being,” obliquely revealing “the soul progressing towards the un-human and un-living.” At the same time, the poet calls Hamlet “a holy text.” I am quoting from the poet’s afterward here, in what may be my own failed attempt to give the reader a compass; for the work is not linear, padding after Hamlet like a faithful canine to his final end. Rather, Nemet-Nejat like the protagonist of the play, warps time, appears to wander away from anything that apparently might relate to the play, obliquely invokes characters from it...

I am reminded of a course I took long ago in then au courant, “New Historicism,” from the scholar, James Young. He referred to Talmudic scholarship where the text is surrounded by scholarly notations in the margins, arguments, counter-arguments, observations, and so on. Indeed, Nemet-Nejat makes a similar, more poetic reference to such strategy, asserting that, “almost every piece in the poem is a commentary, a speculative argument, a parallel alternative text, a counter argument—turning around a specific word or phrase...out of the focus of the linearity of the main actions, the revenge, in the play.”
I am also reminded of the Caribbean novelist, Wilson Harris, who, in prose, attempts to evade linearity, to warp time, to break with the standards of narrative in order to evoke the disorder in the Americas when colonization and slavery wrenched that world apart, in order to reveal the spiritual splintering of its bedrock. While Hamlet references other such cthonic events, ANIMALS OF DAWN is, as Nemet-Nejat says, no metaphor. Rather it is another kind of rupture. As the gap between Hamlet and his stepfather is “unbreachable,” to paraphrase the poet, is the inevitable failure of the living to reach the consciousness of the un-living; and while Hamlet can enact no verb but to die, the erratics of the poem do not, nor should they, follow him. To quote Murat once more, “the commentaries are against Hamlet, subverting and reconfirming its autonomic, ever elusive sanctity–its otherness.”