Review, by Samantha Barrow, in Edible Vineyard
Poetic, spiritual, agricultural, biological and otherwise, Dr. Susan Merrill Squier’s book, Poultry Science, Chicken Culture; A Partial Alphabet, is the perfect primer to explore the relationship between chickens and human animals. Literally. It is organized as an abecedarium that is often associated with children’s primers because it allows for a beginner’s systematic approach to a body of knowledge. Her first chapter begins with A, for Augury, the second with B, for Biology and so on up til I, for Inauguration, before ending with the conclusion, Zen of the Hen. Because of the book’s sturdy organizational structure, the rest of her inquiry and collection of stories has exceptional freedom of movement within.
When these whirling meditations on chickens stop to discuss the historical shift from integrated farms into mass scale agricultural production, Squire muses on chicken and egg metaphors, sharing her own experience with the Cobb 700 (a brand, not a breed as Squier notes, which is marketed as “the chicken of the future”) and the more traditional bantam in her own back yard. Her ruminations do the work of placing our intimate worlds of farming and animal husbandry in a larger context.
It comes as no surprise then, that she finds our Nancy Luce as a useful character in her expansive discussion of chicken-y thinking. Luce appears a central subject of the “F” chapter, entitled “Fellow-Feeling.” Squier describes this affiliation as “A kind of empathy—born in the intimate encounters that are so much a part of chicken farming:...enjoying the variety of their sounds from soft clucks of contentment to urgent churnings when they turned up a worm… Fellow-feeling: the sense that my chickens are fellow creatures.”
Thanks to Dr. Squier’s work, I now consider the primer a breed of poetic form in itself in that it offers a flexible cohesion with enough room for a variety of diverse view points on a particular subject without the burden of maintaining one singular narrative, thus allowing for connections that are inspirational, rather than sheerly logical.
Author’s note: Consider Poor I: The Life and Works of Nancy Luce by Walter Magnes Teller, is due in re-print soon with support from the MV Historical Society.
Thank you to Susan Squier, the MV Historical Society, The Scottish Bakehouse, Flying Skunk Farm for inspiration–especially the live chicken coop web cam, and my folks for letting us do the funky chicken at their house.