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‘The Catamount’ by Sarah Van Arsdale

‘The Catamount’ by Sarah Van Arsdale

Author: July Westhale

July 2, 2019

“But Cats don’t care about names/or totems or stories or lies./Cats don’t care if you’re happy or sad,/if they’ve pleased you or made you cry.” —The Catamount

Sarah Van Arsdale’s The Catamount is a beautiful, hand-bound book-length poem that is full of watercolor illustrations by author. And for good reason: the gorgeous, hand-rendered feel of the book serves to enact the riveting and gorgeous content within.

In these political times, there is a good deal of reckoning—with our administration, with our communities, with ourselves. “The Catamount” captures the chaos of a created world through the fixation on the Cat, a creature without native language, used as a totem or guide for those who cannot communicate with them. Seasons pass. Years (and years and years) pass. Nature meets human conditioning/the human condition meets all of our divine expectations of the animal world. The one unifying force, throughout the millennia of this collection, is the Cat, stalking and slinking and being forever consistent.

And the Cat is genderless, classless. In a world of taxonomy, the Cat represents both everything and nothing. Without those enforced representations, the reader projects upon the great animal whatever they come to the book with. “Some took Cat for their totem/making Cat into their luck,/others dreamt of Cat and in their dreams/heard Cat speak in a Cat tongue.”

Here’s the kicker: with all our projections, and all of the projections of those in the story, one thing is missing: this creature is extinct. This creature used to stalk and prey and be in this world but is no more. What does it mean to idolize and put weight onto a being that we’ve killed off? The question is one that is not only certainly timely, but also one whose answers will take us to the deepest knowing of ourselves and our future.


The Catamount
By Sarah Van Arsdale
Nomadic Press
Paperback, 9780998134864, 32 pp.
May 2017

July Westhale photo

About: July Westhale

July Westhale is the award-winning author of Via Negativa,Trailer Trash (selected for the 2016 Kore Press Book Prize), The Cavalcade, and Occasionally Accurate Science. Her most recent poetry can be found in The National Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, CALYX, Rappahannock Review, Tupelo Quarterly, RHINO, Lunch Ticket, and Quarterly West. Her essays have been nominated for Best American Essays and have appeared in McSweeney’sAutostraddle, and The Huffington Post. She is the 2018 University of Arizona Poetry Center Fellow.

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