Review: The Rain in Portugal

Abbie-1

The Rain in Portugal: Poems

by Billy Collins

Copyright 2016.

 

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, nature, writing poetry, and other subjects. In “Lucky Cat,” Collins suggests betting with other humans on the actions of felines. In “Only Child,” he longs for a sister to help care for his aging parents. In “The Bard in Flight,” he imagines what Shakespeare would do on an airplane. The collection’s title comes from the poem “On Rhyme,” in which he reflects on such common sayings as “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

Billy Collins is one of my favorite poets. I heard about his latest collection when he appeared live yesterday on A Prairie Home Companion. Of course he read a few of his poems, and I was hooked. Needless to say, I downloaded the book and spent last night reading the poems aloud to myself.

According to an author’s note at the beginning, the electronic version of this book is designed so that formatting isn’t affected when the font size of the type is changed. Words at the ends of lines that are moved down when text is enlarged are indented to indicate they’re part of the same line. This didn’t make any difference to me, since I read the book in Braille, but I’m glad those with low vision who read with their eyes can enjoy the poems the way they were written. These poems are meant to be recited, preferably by Billy Collins, but I enjoyed reading them aloud and hope you will too.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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Satisfaction Like a Sated Cat

Today’s poem was inspired by the video prompt at http://wapoetlaureate.org/2015/04/16/poetry-for-all-prompt-3/ . Click on the Dropbox link below the poem to hear me read it.

 

SATISFACTION LIKE A SATED CAT

 

She lies with you on the bed,, content,

purrs as you stroke her head, shoulders back,

rub her tummy, enjoy her fur’s softness,

press your cheek against her.

You have no regrets, no desires,

no need to apologize or forgive.

Let her warmth and love surround you,

as the day draws to a close.

 

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/satisfaction%20like%20a%20sated%20cat.mp3

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

 

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The World According to a Cat

You’re a recovering drug addict, subsisting on whatever money you can make playing your guitar and singing on the streets of London. Then one day, you meet a ginger cat who changes your life. Such is the case of James Bowen, the author of A Street Cat Named Bob and The World According to Bob. These two books tell the story of how this stray cat positively influenced the author’s life.

In A Street Cat Named Bob, Bowen discusses how he took Bob in after the cat kept hanging around his flat and how they developed a relationship. Because Bob was a stray, Bowen didn’t think he would stay with him, but it’s said that cats choose their owners, and this turned out to be the case with Bob and Bowen. The author talks about how he became estranged from his parents and moved to England from Australia to pursue a career in music. He then explains how he became addicted to drugs and shares his experiences on the streets after finding Bob, how he took the cat with him everywhere and how Bob’s presence caused more people to pay attention to him and earned him more money. Eventually, because of police harassment, he was forced to give up busking and start selling editions of a local magazine called The Big Issue.

In The World According to Bob, Bowen recounts further adventures with his cat on the streets. He also touches a little more on his life growing up in Australia, how he was hospitalized frequently as a child with a variety of psychiatric disorders. After a couple of years on the streets with Bob, he was discovered by the media, and he explains how he wrote his first book and how its publication got him off the streets, improved his relationships with his family, and changed attitudes toward the homeless.

According to Wikipedia, James Bowen was born on March 15th, 1979 in Surrey, England. After his parents were divorced, he moved to Australia with his mother and stepfather. His home life was tense, and because the family frequently moved, he was unsettled at school. Continually bullied, he began sniffing glue and was eventually diagnosed with ADHD, schizophrenia, and manic depression.

In 1997, he moved to London, and after living with his half-sister for a while, he spent the next ten years sleeping either on the streets or in shelters. He started using heroine to escape the reality of being homeless. In the spring of 2007, he entered a drug treatment program while busking at Covent Garden and living in sheltered accommodation in Tottenham. This was when he met Bob, and if you read his two international bestsellers, written with the help of author Garry Jenkins, you’ll know the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say. To learn more about James Bowen, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James-_Bowen_(author)#Early_life . You can also read a newspaper article and view photos of the author and his cat at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2227639/James-Bowen-Best-selling-true-story-busker-got-life-track-thanks-stray-cat-film.html .

James Bowen’s style of writing drew me into his world. I laughed at Bob’s habit of hiding in unexpected places and his delight in playing with aluminum wrappers and other items. Of course these are traits any cat would have. I found myself getting angry at people who confronted Bowen because they thought he was mistreating Bob and an apartment complex manager who complained that Bowen’s guitar playing and singing at two in the afternoon was keeping her tenants awake. I agree that Bowen probably should have gotten a proper job, and of course he shouldn’t have been using drugs in the first place, but given the circumstances, he didn’t know better and didn’t have the self-esteem to consider a career other than busking and selling magazines. These books would appeal to cat lovers, but I also hope young people around the world will read them and think twice before turning to drugs.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We shall Overcome, How To Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Dad and Wanda

Dad didn’t like cats. Mother attracted them like a magnet so needless to say, we had several of them when I was growing up. The first feeline I remember was a stray we called Mother Cat, even though she didn’t have a litter. We were living in Tucson, Arizona, and I was about eight. Mother Cat was gray with tiger stripes.

Soon after Mother Cat arrived, another stray showed up at our door, very pregnant. Mother took pity on her, named her Rosemary, and the cat had three kittens in my baby brother’s closet. Mother thought two of the kittens were males and one female so she named the boys Howard and James and the girl Wanda. When we later took them to the vet for the first time, we found out that Howard and James were also females, but the names had stuck by then.

James died, and Mother Cat walked off one day and never returned. Mother took Rosemary to the local humane society. Through the years, Howard and Wanda stuck with us. Howard was gray with tiger stripes like Mother Cat, and Wanda was white with black spots.

When Wanda was old enough to understand relationships between humans and feelines, she picked up on Dad’s dislike of cats and decided she didn’t like him, either. The following poem which appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders is written from Wanda’s point of view. It illustrates how she expressed her dislike of my father. For a rare treat, click below to hear me read it. This link will be available for a limited time.

FROM YOUR FORMER FEELINE HOUSEMATE

 

I’m the one she put to sleep

when life’s pain was too great.

You told her you didn’t like me.

Maybe it was a guy thing,

but the feeling was mutual.

 

She insisted on calling me Wanda,

thought I could be a witch

so as far as you were concerned, I was.

 

I peed in your shoes at night

then stood by in the morning when you put them on.

The look on your face was priceless.

You swore and threatened to throw me twenty feet.

Believe me, if I could have,

I would have done the same to you,

right out the second story bedroom window,

then stood on the sill and watched you fall.

 

When you brought that big, red dog home,

I hated you even more.

I could no longer pee in your shoes

because the dog slept next to the bed

so I peed on your favorite love seat.

Imagine your shock

when you sat down with the latest issue of The New Yorker

to discover a wet cushion.

 

After many years,

we’re reunited in the hereafter,

you, her, me, and that big, red dog.

Oh well, I’ll have to make the best of it.

Hmmm, I need to pee.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

 

 

A Cat Saves the Day

Three years ago, I reviewed Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper, the true story of how the author adopted and cared for a blind cat. I just finished reading her latest book, Love Saves the Day. This novel’s story is told, in part, by a cat.

Prudence has brown tiger stripes and white feet. She thinks she knows everything, and after living with Sarah, her “roommate,” she has developed ideas of how humans should interact with cats, and when others besides Sarah don’t act the way she thinks they should, she says they don’t have good manners. Sarah, a former DJ and recording artist who once owned a record store and now works as a typist in various offices, found Prudence at a construction site when she was a kitten, and as she says later in the book, they were meant to find each other.

Prudence is contentedly living with Sarah in her apartment in New York City’s lower east side until one day when Sarah has a heart attack at work and never returns home, leaving Prudence to wonder where she is and go hungry once she runs out of food. A neighbor finally feeds her, and Sarah’s daughter Laura and her husband Josh arrive. Much to Prudence’s horror, they box all Sarah’s possessions and take them and her to their apartment on the upper east side.

This story isn’t just about Prudence. Most of the chapters are in the cat’s point of view, but others tell Laura’s side of the story. Sarah tells her own story in two of the chapters. We get an idea of Sarah’s life as a teen-ager after moving to the city from White Plains and Laura’s life growing up there.

At first, Josh and Laura are distant with the cat. Josh isn’t sure how to treat Prudence, and Laura, still resentful of her mother for the way she grew up, views the cat as another painful reminder of her past. The only reason she agrees to take Prudence is because it is stipulated in her mother’s will. When Josh loses his job with a marketing company due to downsizing, Laura, a lawyer working in a prestigious firm, feels the pressure of being the only breadwinner and worries about money. After looking through Sarah’s old discs and other memorabilia, Josh becomes active in a movement to save the studio where Sarah made her records. Since Laura thinks he should be looking for another job, this causes tension between them, and they each bond with Prudence.

After Sarah relates a shocking incident from the past, we understand why Laura resents her mother and worries about money. Then, Josh and Laura have a huge argument on the day of their wedding anniversary, and Prudence becomes violently ill after eating lilies that were delivered for the occasion. This brings Josh and Laura closer to each other and to Prudence as the book ends.

I downloaded Love Saves the Day from Audible and found the narration excellent. This book isn’t all serious. I had to laugh at the way Prudence perceives things, although she probably wouldn’t have found it funny. She thinks Josh’s computer keyboard is a cat bed and sleeps on it during the day when he’s not home. When Josh vacuums the spare bedroom where the boxes of Sarah’s things are stored, she thinks the vacuum cleaner is a monster about to attack her and the boxes. When Josh tosses a newspaper on the floor in the kitchen after reading it, she attacks it, looking for mice and other rodents, much to Josh and Laura’s amusement. The ruckus Prudence creates when she finds a toy rat in the closet among Sarah’s things is almost too funny. All this, along with the serious stuff, makes this book a worthwhile read.

Besides Love Saves the Day and Homer’s Odyssey, Gwen Cooper is the author of Diary of a South Beach Party Girl. Her books received positive reviews on NPR and in such publications as USSA Today, People, and Entertainment Weekly. A native of Miami, Florida, she worked for five years in non-profit administration, marketing, and fundraising. She led direct-service volunteer activities on behalf of such organizations as Pet Rescue, The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, and the Miami Rescue Mission. She also initiated Reading Pen Pals, an elementary school-based literacy program in Miami’s Little Haiti. She was selected for membership in the chamber of commerce’s Leadership Miami Program and nominated for the organization’s Carlos Arboleya Award. She also joined the Hannah Kawn Poetry Foundation and eventually switched from non-profit administration to marketing communications.

She moved to Manhattan, New York, in 2001 where she was the creative services director for AOL Time Warner’s online marketing group. In 2003, she became the special projects manager at Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone and Us Weekly where she worked until the sale of her first book. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Laurence and their three cats: Homer, Clayton, and Fanny.

Love Saves the Day is available from Amazon and other online retailers. It can also be purchased and downloaded in a recorded format from Audible. I suggest you curl up in your favorite armchair with your cat and read this book.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

In Praise of Cats

The first poem I ever read by Marge Piercy is “In Praise of Joe” which can be read here. This poem, about her addiction to coffee, inspired me to write “Ode to Dr. Pepper” which I posted on my blog here. In case you’re wondering what Dr. Pepper and coffee have to do with cats, I just finished reading Marge Piercy’s 2002 memoir, Sleeping with Cats. You can read my review of this book here.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver