A Whitehorse author diligently researched extinctions of the distant past and the human era to inform a book of poetry which has been recognized nationally.
Joanna Lilley’s Endlings was named the winner of the 2021 Fred Kerner Book Award, presented by the Canadian Authors Association.
“In Endlings, Joanna Lilley’s rich collection of lyrical and devastating poems, voice is given to the final moments of animal extinction,” judges’ comments accompanying the award announcement read.
“This book-length elegy to the planet’s lost species explores the ruinous impact humanity has had on the planet while still managing to create wonder and hope.”
Lilley said she was very excited to see her book receive the award because poetry isn’t generally what the reading public reaches for first. The recognition was also welcome because the book was released in March 2020, just in time for book tours and other activities to be shut down due to COVID-19.
“It’s really lovely for it to surface again in this way,” she said.
Extinction is the key idea addressed in Endlings. Over the course of approximately 80 poems, Lilley grapples with the fates of 64 extinct species.
“The word ‘endling’ means the last individual of a species or sub-species. It has not yet been included in the Oxford English Dictionary. It is probably only a matter of time,” a foreword on an otherwise blank page reads.
Lilley said animals have been an enduring interest for her, but lacking training in biology, she had to travel to find the knowledge necessary to put the tales of extinction into verse. Her research included trips to natural history museums in New York, Washington D.C. and Ontario. She said this research travel was assisted with money through the Advanced Artist Award from the Yukon Government.
The subjects of the poems cast a wide net, eulogizing the extinction of both species that shared the earth with humans and those from the much more distant past.
Although the book’s scope is wide, Lilley acknowledged that life in the Yukon led her to gravitate to northern species. She mentioned the Stellar’s sea cow in particular, a large marine mammal whose demise at the hands of hungry European explorers in its Bering Sea home is told in the poem Great Northern Expedition.
The process of research and writing led Lilley to feel a close connection with the extinct species. Because of this connection she said she spent a lot of time revising and retooling a poem about the Beringian Wolf in order to get it into the book.
Endlings was Lilley’s fifth published book. She has released two other books of poetry entitled If There Were Roads and The Fleece Era as well as a collection of short stories called The Birthday Books and Worry Stones, a novel. She said the first novel took her 17 years to complete and jokingly added that the second, which is in progress, might take just as long; she is also working on more poetry.
Lilley said Endlings is for sale at Mac’s Fireweed Books on Main Street in Whitehorse or through online booksellers.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org