Thursday Book Feature: Poetry of Mary Oliver and Ted Kooser


Dog Songs
Oliver, Mary
Copyright 2013.

It’s pretty obvious from the title that this collection of poetry and prose is about dogs. Some poems are from the point of view of a dog while others are from the point of view of a dog owner. There are blocks of poems about a specific dog. Amid the poetry is an essay entitled “Ropes.” Here, the author shares her experiences with a dog who could chew through any rope and climb any fence and loved to roam free.

I didn’t particularly care for Mary Oliver’s work until I found this book. The material here is straightforward, funny, and touching. I especially liked “If You’re Holding the Book,” in which Oliver explains that one of the things she enjoys seeing the most is dogs without leashes. It reminded me of the good old days growing up when there were few leash laws, and people didn’t have to worry about picking up after their dogs. If you love dogs, and even if you don’t love poetry, I highly recommend this book.

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Delights and Shadows
Kooser, TedCopyright 2004

The poems in this collection reflect on various aspects of life. The book is divided into numbered sections with the title of the first poem in each section being that section’s title. Some poems are inspired by paintings.

Years ago, I attended a writers’ conference at which Ted Kooser was the keynote speaker. One thing he said stuck with me. The title of a poem should set the scene.

Titles of poems in this collection, like “Walking on Tiptoe,” “Tattoo,” and “At the Cancer Clinic,” give the reader a general idea of what the poem is about. I especially liked “A Rainy Morning,” in which he describes a woman in a wheelchair pushing herself in the rain. I highly recommend this book.

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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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Thursday Book Feature: The Poetry of Billy Collins

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m reviewing two collections by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. . Some of you may remember that I reviewed The Rain in Portugal last year, but I’ve since read it again, and it’s worth a second look.

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Aimless Love: A Selection of Poems
Copyright 2012.

The poems in this collection provide slice-of-life and often humorous reflections on such topics as nature, religion, and other poets. In “The Revenant,” a deceased dog talks to his owner from the grave. In “The Lanyard,” the author describes how he made a lanyard for his mother, who did a lot more for him. In “Suggestion Box,” he considers writing a poem about all the people who give him poem ideas. The title poem is about unconditional love. Some poems here are previously published while others are new.

If you’re a poet, Billy Collins might inspire you. After reading “The Revenant,” I wrote a poem in which one of our cats speaks to my father from her grave. “Istanbul,” in which the poet shares his experience with a Turkish bath, inspired me to write about a similar experience I had in a California spa run by Koreans. Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, you might enjoy Billy Collins’ work, since most of it reads more like prose, although it looks like poetry on the page.

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The Rain in Portugal: Poems
Copyright 2016.

In the author’s usual humorous style, poems in this collection reflect on jazz, 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.”

I heard about this latest collection when he appeared 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 a delightful evening 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 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.

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Soggy Morning Contentment

Note: The following comes from fellow blogger Patty Fletcher, who is the author of two books and does marketing for other writers and businesses. Enjoy, and have a great day.

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Good Moonday)Monday morning campbellsworld visitors.
I hope this message finds you well, warm and dry.
Here, Campbell and I woke to another rainy chilly morning, and to be quite blunt, we are sick to death of mornings such as these.
Even Campbell who for those who do not know, is a big black Labrador, that should love water, grumbled as we went out for his first morning park time.
He took care of his necessary rather quickly and shook vigorously as we came back through the door with a mighty wiggly waggly jingly jangly shake, and humph of disgust as I stepped in behind him grabbing a doggy towel and firmly shutting the door against the nasty weather.
Once we were dried off, and he was fed, I went for my usual morning’s cup of coffee.
He came wagging happily along with his nails, clickety clickety clicketing, adding rhythm to the song of the morning rain waiting for his morning meds.
As I gave him his arthritis chews I thought, “Gods, I hope these are truly helping him. I never want him to feel the kind of pain I feel this day.”
Thanks to yet another soggy start to the morning, my wish to keep the light-bill down and not running any heat during the night, I am feeling the damp deep within my joints, and muscles this early morn.
Between the arthritis and fibro, some mornings are a real battle.
As I poured my coffee, and put it into the microwave to heat, I sang in a made-up tune,
“Reach out for the good.
Chase away the bad.
Think of all the blessings you have.
Try, try, and try.
Keep doing it till you smile.
Cause the alternative is, to cry, cry, and cry.”
The microwave beeped, my left-over coffee from yesterday was done, and as I spooned in sugar and began to stir, I chanted softly.
“Happy Moonday, it’s a great day to be sure.
The sun will come up behind the clouds and listen to those birds.
Thank you for the sun.
Thank you, when day is done,
All my needs, they will be met.
Thank you for what I have, and for what I have not yet.
Thank you for being you, and for showing me what to say and do.
Light my path, and guide my way, and help me get through another day.”
As I finished readying my coffee to drink, I realized I’d forgotten how badly I felt, and that I could certainly get through another day.
I went to sit with my Bubba to have my first cup of strength.
As I was kneeling to sit beside him, he began to thump his tale cheerfully on the loveseat where he lay,
When I’d settled myself onto the floor where I normally sit so I can reach to stroke his fur, and snuggle him into my arms, connecting with Mother Earth for my morning love-fest and meditation time, I said to him,
“You really do love your momma, don’t you?”
His answer? a swipe of his enormous tongue, and a generous helping of his loving nuzzles.
Tucking his head gently under my chin, and leaning into his loving warmth, I knew that I was safe, loved, and accepted.
So, I added to my morning prayers,
“Thank you especially for my Bubba. May he be blessed with long-life, and good health, for many years to come.”

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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
Like Me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Follow Your Dog

Follow Your Dog: A Story of Love and Trust

by Ann Chiappetta

Copyright 2017.

The author, blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, shares her experiences with a succession of dogs that influenced her life, focusing on her first guide dog, Verona. She describes her turbulent childhood: her parents’ divorce, her father berating her when she broke or lost her glasses, and how she found a way to escape through nature and books.

She talks about the dogs she and her husband and children had as pets before Verona came along. She explains the process of applying for a dog through Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, about a forty-minute drive from her home in New Rochelle: why she was rejected the first time, how she applied to other schools and was eventually accepted by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and started training in January of 2008.

She then describes the arduous twenty-six day process of learning to work with Verona: her apprehension and excitement on the day she first met her, the full days of walking routes in bitter winter weather, the exhilaration upon graduation. She explains the adjustments her family had to make since Verona wasn’t a pet.

She then describes reactions of others to her dog and how Verona impacted her life until 2015 when she was compelled to retire her. She explains how she returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and obtained Bailey, her second dog, describing how Verona adjusted to Bailey doing the work she once did. She then talks about how Verona became a certified therapy dog. Inserted at strategic points throughout the book are essays, poems, and blog posts, and at the end, a list of resources for those interested in applying for a guide dog.

I met Ann over a year ago through Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities. I’ve always enjoyed reading her material.

I like dogs but am not interested in getting a guide dog. For one thing, I do really well with a cane, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have one. For another, they’re a lot of work, as illustrated in the book, whereas with a cane, when you arrive at your destination, you just fold it up, put it somewhere out of the way, and forget about it until you need it again. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Since November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, after reading this book, you might want to think about adopting a retired guide dog. Verona was lucky that Ann and her family were willing and able to keep her after she was retired, but other former guide dogs aren’t as fortunate. In any case, this book would make a great gift for a dog lover or someone with a visual impairment interested in getting a guide dog. It would also be a good educational tool for anyone training in a disability-related field.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Jim, the Mischievous King

After reading the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I was inspired to write my own canine tale. I doubt Chicken Soup for the Soul will publish any more dog books, since they already have two on the market, so I’ll post my dog story here.

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In the spring of 1977 when I was a freshman in high school, and my younger brother Andy was in fourth grade, our family decided to get a dog. We were living in Sheridan, Wyoming. Before Andy was born, when we lived in Tucson, Arizona, we had a pooch that died as a result of Valley Fever, common in that part of the country. Despite the fact that we had two cats, my parents were now ready for another dog, and Andy and I liked the idea.

Mother found an advertisement in the newspaper announcing Irish setter puppies for sale. She called the woman who placed the ad and arranged for us to visit her and see the puppies.

The little dogs were in a box, and all except one were scratching and whining. The silent pooch sat in a corner, aloof. Mother said, “Oh, let’s see this little guy.”

She lifted him out of the box, and despite my limited vision, I could tell he had the sweetest face. He was red with floppy ears, which I immediately stroked and scratched, and he didn’t seem to mind.

“Let’s take him,” I said. The rest of the family agreed, and a week later, he was ours.

We debated what to call him. Dad, liking all things Irish, suggested Shem, the Irish name for Jim. Andy liked the name Clancy. Mother and I didn’t have a preference. We settled on Shem Shenanigan Clancy Leroy. Leroy was my grandfather’s name, and in Irish, it means king.

When we brought Clancy home, he was full of mischief and ruled his kingdom. When he wasn’t napping, he was running and playing with Andy inside the house and out, chewing on anything he could find, and antagonizing the cats. He eventually came to an understanding with our feline companions. Although they were never friends, they were civil toward one another.

In the summer, Mother enrolled Clancy in an obedience class for puppies. For Clancy, this was play time. At home alone, Mother was able to teach him to come, sit, and stay, but around the other dogs in the class, it was as if she hadn’t even tried to train him.

Andy tried training him with the girl next door, but that didn’t work, either. I suppose we could have hired a trainer like some of the authors in the Chicken Soup book did for their unruly dogs, but in the 1970’s, that wasn’t something to be considered.

Andy hoped that he and Clancy would be like Timmy and Lassie, but Clancy eventually became Dad’s dog, accompanying our father everywhere, even to the shop where he sold and serviced coin-operated machines. Clancy enjoyed riding in the back of Dad’s pick-up or in the station wagon with his head stuck out the window, eating air. This was before seat belt laws were enacted.

If Dad couldn’t take Clancy, he’d say, “not you.” With sad eyes, the dog would watch, as his master strode out the door. In Dad’s absence, Clancy would often follow Mother around, thinking she was responsible for Dad’s disappearance and that if he stayed by her side, she would magically make Dad appear.

Since the high school I attended wasn’t far from our home, Dad and Clancy often walked me there, through a park and up a hill. This was in the days before leash laws became more stringent, and Clancy ran free through the park, playing in a nearby creek while we walked. During the winter months, Dad drove me to school. At the top of the hill, where there wasn’t much traffic, he stopped and opened the rear passenger door, and Clancy jumped out and ran alongside the car the rest of the way.

Like any dog, Clancy enjoyed rolling in fish heads, cow pies, and anything else that stank. Andy tried hosing him off, but naturally, because the water was too cold, Clancy didn’t like that at all. Dad gave him a shower, which was a disaster, with water everywhere in the bathroom and Mother pissed. In those days, there was no such thing as a do-it-yourself dog wash, which is similar to a car wash and mentioned in the Chicken Soup book.

Despite his antics, Clancy was a lovable addition to our family for eleven years. He died suddenly in the summer of 1988, one of the hottest on record. By that time, my parents were separated, and Dad lived in a house halfway across town. I’d just completed a music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, and was staying with Mother in our family home. Andy had graduated from high school two years earlier and was off somewhere for the summer.

One hot night, Dad let Clancy out so he could do his business, and the dog wandered off. He was found dead the next day by the creek near Grandma’s house. Here’s what I think happened.

Since Dad didn’t have air conditioning, Clancy was hot and wanted to get somewhere cooler. In gest, Dad always called him a dummy, but that dog had some smarts. For years, he’d been driven, along with the rest of the family, to Grandma’s house, which was air conditioned. He knew it was cooler, and he knew how to get there.

Unfortunately, Grandma was hard of hearing by that time. Upstairs in her bedroom, perhaps with the television on full blast, she didn’t hear Clancy scratching at either the front or back doors. When he couldn’t get into Grandma’s house, Clancy knew the next coolest place was the creek, so he went there. He no doubt passed as a result of heat stroke.

Dad said Clancy could have lived longer. Several years later after he moved to another house and acquired a second Irish setter, he bought a window air conditioner. That’s another story.

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Why don’t you tell me about a pet you had when you were growing up? If you have a blog, you can post your story there and a link to it in the comment field here. If not, you can just share your memories. I look forward to hearing from you.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Classic Writer Tries to Find This Country

Abbie-1

Travels with Charley in Search of America

by John Steinbeck

Copyright 1960

 

From the author of The Grapes of Wrath and The Red Pony comes an account of his travels cross-country to see what America was like. He describes driving from his home state of New York a full circle around the country with Charley, his French poodle, in a pick-up truck outfitted with a camper he had specially designed for the trip. He talks about people he met along the way and sites he saw, discusses visiting the place in California where he grew up and how it changed over the years, and reflects on hunting, being alone, and other topics. He describes a rally in New Orleans to protest black students attending white schools and how it affected him.

I believe John Steinbeck was in his fifties when he took this trip, about the same age as me, but this isn’t something I want to do, maybe when I was younger but not now. In fact, I hate traveling, especially by plane. I only do it out of necessity when I want to visit my brother in Florida or attend a writers’ conference. However, this book is a great way to go back in time and across the country without leaving the comfort of one’s arm chair and paying an arm and leg for gas.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season

Abbie-1The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Copyright 2016.

 

This collection of short fiction, poetry, and essays spans from Thanksgiving through New Year’s and beyond. In “The Thanksgiving Phone,” a blind woman finds a cell phone belonging to another woman whose son is in the military, serving overseas. In the title piece, a widow gets her long-awaited Christmas wish and more.

In “The Puppies of New Year’s Eve,” a dog breeder and a woman who buys two of his puppies discover they have a lot in common on a stormy New Year’s Eve. The author’s essays and poetry explore her holiday experiences while growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, adventures with her guide dog, and other topics. Instructions for playing a Thanksgiving poetry game and making Christmas cards are included.

I met Alice several years ago when she joined Behind Our Eyes, a writers’ group to which I belong. She’s a delightful lady who has inspired my own writing and helped and supported me and other writers.

Most of the material in her book has appeared on her blog over the years, but I enjoyed reading it again. For a second time, I was indignant after reading accounts of people in Catholic churches refusing to shake hands with homeless men during Mass and of one woman who told a homeless man he didn’t belong there. Again, I was moved almost to tears when a soldier serving overseas was reunited with his family at Thanksgiving. Many pieces in this book are appropriate for all ages, so I suggest families make it an annual tradition to read at least one of the stories together during this time of the year.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.