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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

 

Thursday Book Feature: The Dog Really did That?

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That?: 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief, and Magical Moments

Edited by Amy Newmark

Copyright 2017

 

This collection of true stories focuses on rescued dogs but includes many different tales about pooches. In “Geometry Dog,” a teacher explains how her canine friend helped her students learn arithmetic. “Jazmine’s Journey” is the story of how one rescued dog, abandoned in Wyoming’s Red Desert, traveled to her forever home in Canada with the help of strangers. ⠠⠔ “Brains Versus Brawn, the author shares her experiences raising basset hounds.

Most of the stories are written by women, but some have male authors. Some are funny, others touching. The stories begin with quotes, mostly about dogs, by celebrities and others. Proceeds from sales of this book go toward animal rescue.

In the foreword, Dr Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of American Humane, encourages readers to adopt shelter dogs but points out the responsibility involved in caring for a pet, a responsibility I’m still not ready to undertake. I like dogs, and although it’s been almost five years since the death of my late husband, who suffered two strokes and whom I took care of during the last six years of his life, I still don’t want to care for another living thing.

That said, this book can still be enjoyed, even if you don’t want to adopt a dog. Many of the stories made me laugh, and some moved me almost to tears. This book would make a great gift for any dog lover, and you’ll support a worthy cause by purchasing it.

***

     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.

 

Poetry that Influenced Me

In a recent post, I mentioned a correspondence course I was taking from the Hadley Institute. I’m now pleased to announce that I’ve passed the course with an A Plus. For our last assignment, I was instructed to pick three poems, write about them, then compose a poem in the style of one of the poems I picked.

My three chosen poems are: “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” by Francesco Marciuliano, “The Lanyard by Billie Collins, and “In Praise of Joe” by Marge Piercy. “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” comes from I Could Chew on This, a collection of poems that tell stories from a dog’s point of view. This poem provides a humorous look at what can happen when a dog is left at home, reminding me so much of the Irish setter we had when I was a teen-ager. Marciuliano tells this story in one stanza with many short lines.

In “The Lanyard,” Billie Collins tells his story in a different way. Using several stanzas with many short lines, he shares a memory of creating a lanyard for his mother when he was a boy at summer camp. He starts in the present. Apparently bored, he’s thumbing through a dictionary when he finds the word lanyard, and that gets him to reminiscing. You can click below to hear the author read this poem.

 

Marge Piercy uses many stanzas containing several short lines, but in this case, she’s not telling a story. She’s describing the many ways she drinks coffee and extolling its virtues. It inspired me to write a poem about Dr. Pepper, which appears in my own collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver.

Now here’s a poem I wrote in the style of “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House” and other poems in Francesco Marciuliano’s collection. It was also inspired by a visit to my brother in Florida, who has two dogs, and by something I see every day while walking. You can click below to hear me read it.

 

Four Ways a Dog Looks at Life

 

1.

 

I’m too outspoken

so must wear a special collar

during the day while no one’s home.

When I alert the empty house,

it vibrates against my throat,

feels weird, sometimes uncomfortable,

causing me to whine

when I speak my mind.

Life is “ruff.”

2.

 

“Turkey muffin, turkey muffin,”

you squeak, as my leash clicks into place.

What’s a turkey muffin, anyway?

It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing

as that rotten fish head in the alley.

Now that’s what I want.

 

3.

 

Oh, you’re hungry?

You don’t live here,

so you don’t know where anything is.

You don’t see very well, huh?

Well, how about some potato chips?

I know where they are,

in the pantry. Open this door.

They’re right here on the floor.

Now here’s one for you, five for me,

one for you, ten for me,

one for you, twenty for me,

one for you, forty for me.

Oh, the bag’s empty.

Just throw it away.

They’ll think you ate all the chips. Ha ha.

 

4.

 

What’s that on the other side of the fence?

A white stick it is,

rolling along the pavement.

A human pushes it.

I want to chase it.

I bark and bark and bark,

leap in the air many times,

try to fly over the fence.

I’m ignored.

Human and stick walk and roll away.

***

Have any poems ever influenced you? Please tell me about them in the comment field. I leave you now with the hope that someday, you can read a pile of perfect poems.

 

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.

***

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.

 

Four Ways a Dog Looks at Life (Poetry)

1.

 

I’m too outspoken

so I must wear a special collar

during the day while no one’s home.

When I alert the empty house, the collar

vibrates against my throat, feels weird. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable,

causes me to whine when I speak my mind.

Life is “ruff.”

 

2.

 

“Turkey muffin, turkey muffin,” you squeak,

as my leash clicks into place.

What’s a turkey muffin, anyway?

It doesn’t sound nearly as appealing

as that rotten fish head in the alley.

Now, that’s what I want.

 

3.

 

Oh, you’re hungry.

You don’t live here

so you don’t know where anything is.

You can’t see very well, huh?

Well, how about some potato chips?

I know where they are, in the pantry.

Open this door–they’re right here on the floor.

Now, here’s one for you, five for me,

one for you, ten for me, one for you, twenty for me,

one for you, forty for me. Oh, the bag’s empty.

Just throw it away.

They’ll think you ate all the chips–ha ha.

 

4.

 

What’s that on the other side of the fence?

A white stick it is, rolling along the pavement.

A human pushes it.

I want to chase it

so I bark and bark and bark,

leap in the air many times,

try to fly over the fence.

I’m ignored–human and stick

walk and roll away.

***

I decided to write the above poem when I read Francesco Marciuliano’s book, I Could Chew on This: and Other Poems by Dogs. It was also inspired by my recent visit to Florida, where my brother has two dogs, and my experiences with other canine friends over the years. I wrote four poems but then combined them into one. Click this link to hear me read it.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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