Poet, paleobotanist will reflect on species loss, extinction

LAWRENCE — Visiting poet Kristi Maxwell will give a reading from her latest book, “Goners,” at an upcoming event at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum.

In addition to Maxwell’s poetry offering, Kelly Matsunaga, Thomas N. Taylor Assistant Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and assistant curator of paleobotany at the KU Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, will offer reflections based on her research with plant species. The event will take place at 5 p.m. Feb. 28 in the museum’s Panorama in Dyche Hall.

In her eighth book of poetry, published in 2023 by Green Linden Press, Maxwell makes use of the lipogram, an ancient form in which certain letters are excluded from the available alphabet to convey the experience of loss. The book, which centers endangered species, serves to question the common practice of elegizing as it examines the role that anthropocentrism plays in ongoing extinction, according to the publisher.

Her work entangles human-generated modes and events — such as language and erasure; imperialism and extinction — to examine ways in which humans have had a profound and damaging effect on the planet and our ways of understanding it.

“Kristi Maxwell’s new book, ‘Goners,’ considers both the facts about our current moment of mass species extinction and the difficult feelings that arise as we reckon with that devastation,” said Megan Kaminski, professor of English and environmental studies. “This interdisciplinary event will provide both conversations and a community space where we can grapple with questions of environmental stewardship and openings into the care we might provide for our fellow earth inhabitants.”

An associate professor of English at the University of Louisville, Maxwell has a doctorate in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati and a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Arizona.

“We find ourselves in a unique place here at KU, being able to consider extinction — a phenomenon that holds such gravity in the collective understanding — from multiple forms of research,” said Emily Ryan, director of The Commons. “In our midst, we have scientists whose work gives us a completely different way of understanding extinction — as an inevitable part of evolutionary processes and as something that offers us clues to understanding the world more fully. To host Matsunaga in the same space as Maxwell promises a truly dynamic way of thinking about humans' role in all of this as individuals and as a species.”

The event is supported by the Department of English, the Environmental Studies Program, The Commons and the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum. Copies of the book will be for sale from Raven Book Store.

Wed, 02/21/2024


Emily Ryan

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Emily Ryan

The Commons