dog poems

5 posts

Doggone Poetry

I like reading poems that go where angels fear to tread. One such category would be dog poems. As a subject in poetry, dogs and cats are on the “hit list.” You know what that means. Proceed at your own risk. Or, as the sign in the Wizard of Oz says, “I’d go back if I were you.”

But me, I’m a dog guy. I am as disinterested in cats as they are in me. But there’s an asterisk after “dog guy,” too. In this day and age, pets are so high on the pedestal that they often surpass humans.

For instance, you see more and more people bringing their pets into stores, causing me to shake my head and say, “Why was that dog not left at home?” They allow dogs on furniture, causing me to ask, “Why was this dog never trained to stay on the floor?” They allow dogs into their beds under the covers, causing me to say, “Um. Gross.”

So, yeah. I’m a dog guy, but an old-school dog guy. To me a dog is a dog and should be both respected and treated as such. He or she is not a surrogate son or daughter worthy of birthday parties with guests or full-fledged funerals and burials or prominent places in lasts wills and testaments. Why? Because he or she is a dog.

That said, dogs can still teach us a thing or two about human nature. The late Tony Hoagland took a shot at it himself in a poem he called “Fetch.” You might find it fetching. You might find it delineates key aspects of dogs’ characters. For starters, their unconditional love and loyalty—rare things coming from humans.

Whatever you find or don’t, you have to admire Hoagland’s trying. There are no forbidden topics in poetry, he seems to be saying. And if dogs don’t belong in grocery store carts, they at least belong in poems!


Tony Hoagland

Who knew that the sweetest pleasure of my fifty-eighth year
would turn out to be my friendship with the dog?

That his trembling, bowlegged bliss at seeing me stand there with the leash
would give me a feeling I had sought throughout my life?

Now I understand those old ladies walking
their Chihuahuas in the dusk, plastic bag wrapped around one hand,

content with a companionship that, whatever
else you think of it, is totally reliable.

And in the evening, at cocktail hour,
I think tenderly of them

in all of those apartments on the fourteenth floor
holding out a little hotdog on a toothpick

to bestow a luxury on a friend
who knows more about uncomplicated pleasure

than any famous lobbyist for the mortal condition.
These barricades and bulwarks against human loneliness,

they used to fill me with disdain,
but that was before I found out my metaphysical needs
could be so easily met

by the wet gaze of a brown-and-white retriever
with a slight infection of the outer ear
and a tail like a windshield wiper.

I did not guess that love would be returned to me
as simply as a stick returned when it was thrown

again and again and again—
in fact, I still don’t exactly comprehend.

What could that possibly have to teach me
about being human?


It’s one of those poems that ends in a question. A metaphorical question, if you’re a dog owner.


A Dog, Samsara, and the Sea


Wash. Rinse. Repeat. A good mantra for samsara, seems. But the Buddhist view of samsara is negative—i.e. an endless cycle of pain, sickness, and death—while the Western view skews positive. You know. Reincarnation as better-than-nothing form of immortality. Too bad you can’t remember your former lives. Unless you’re Shirley MacLaine, that is.

Today’s poem is one part samsara and one part shaggy dog. Dogs, you see, are a form of immortality too. When life hits you with trauma and misery, invest in a puppy. Voilà, as they say in Versaille. Your worries dissolve in the day-to-day delights of puppy tail and puppy tongue.

A dog, after all, lives in the moment. It has little use for past or future. In that sense, it is not only man’s best friend, but his bodhisattva, a being that long ago reached enlightenment but is there for you anyway.

So the next time you read some rule that says, “Thou shalt not write a poem about dogs,” you can either roll your eyes and ignore it OR do as David Salner does and double down: dog plus Eastern philosophy.


A Dog by the Sea
by David Salner

Just after dawn, we get up,
without coffee, and let the dog lead us
through a grove of wind-stunted trees,
spiked succulents, red-berried holly,
and over the dune ridge out of the gray
of still sleeping minds. A line of pink
from the not yet risen sun
reminds me of the lilac shadows
caught in the radial grooves of shells.
I take up your hand and feel the blood
warming your fingers, as the dog bounds off
dragging her leash through wet sand.
She’s after gulls and a line of waves
that repeat themselves, she seems to think,
because they want to play.
A morning breeze
stirs the now turning tide, breathing over it,
sighing toward bayside. As the waves come in
whorls of light unfold on the sand. How I want
for us to repeat ourselves, on and on,
you holding the leash of a silly dog, me
feeling the beat, the blood in your hand.


In addition to imagery related to the sea, note how the waves repeat themselves, the tide turns eternal, and the narrator confesses “How I want / for us to repeat ourselves, on and on.”

If you inhale deeply while reading, you’ll catch whiffs of both salt and Buddhism, meaning we have a dog poem, yes. But an oh-so-human-in-its-wistfulness one, too.

Aubades: Love Poems That Dawn On You

“Poetry doesn’t get enough mainstream attention these days. It’s a mode of engaging with the world, it feels like magic, it requires nothing of you other than a willing ear. It’s also a mode of engagement that is not argumentative, it’s full of surprise, and it’s full of grace.”

Thus spake Jia Tolentino in her video intro to a reading of Tracy K. Smith’s “Solstice,” taken from Life on Mars, the book I’ve been reading (or perhaps that’s been reading me).

The book itself is a rich nougat, much sweeter and more filling than expected. All manner of poetry is going on here, from free verse to bound forms to boundless imagination in the form of postcard missives between people.

As another example of the variety, I give you an aubade entitled, quite simply, “Aubade.” An old French form, an aubade, gets its own 2-minute podcast on Merriam-Webster. Although it looks like you’d pronounce it with a long “a,” it is, in fact, pronounced “oh-BOD.” Without further ado, here is Tracy’s love song to the morning:


by Tracy K. Smith

You wake with a start from some dream
Asking if I want to walk with you around the block.

You go through the things that need doing
Before Monday. Six emails. A presentation on Manet.

No, I don’t want to put on clothes and shoes
And dark glasses and follow the dog and you

Down Smith Street. It’s eight o’clock. The sun
Is toying with those thick clouds and the trees

Shake their heads in the wind. You exhale,

Wheel your feet to the floor, walk around to my side
And let your back end drop down onto the bed.

You resort to the weather. A high today of 78.
But that’s hours aways. And look at the dog

Still passed out cold, twitching in a dream.

When we stop talking, we hear the soft sounds
He makes in his sleep. Not quite barking. More like

Learning to speak. As if he’s in the middle of a scene
Where he must stand before the great dog god

Trying to account for his life.


Mornings can get rather prosaic, as this aubade attests, making it a much easier form for poets to explore than the ghazals we found leaping around in yesterday’s post. And it feels as if the aubade isn’t done speaking, either, when we see, two poems later, Smith’s continuation of the dog theme. For what goes with mornings more than dogs?


“Eggs Norwegian”

by Tracy K. Smith

Give a man a stick, and he’ll hurl it at the sun
For his dog to race toward as it falls. He’ll relish
The snap in those jagged teeth, the rough breath
Sawing in and out through the craggy mouth, the clink
Of tags approaching as the dog canters back. He’ll stoop
To do it again and again, so your walk through grass
Lasts all morning, the dog tired now in the heat,
The stick now just a wet and gnarled nub that doesn’t sail
So much as drop. And when the dog plops to the grass
Like a misbegotten turd, and even you want nothing
More than a plate of eggs at some sidewalk café, the man–
Who, too, by now has dropped even the idea of fetch
Will push you against a tree and ease his leg between
Your legs as his industrious tongue whispers
Convincingly into your mouth.


A stronger poem, I think, but every bit as lovely as morning, the best time of day, the most creative time of day, the time of day I need no alarm clock to greet. Speaking of days, maybe we need to discover the Norwegian word for “egg poems.”

Love, dogs, or eggs, may yours be a good one, no matter how much remains of it.

Ode to a Country Not in the Olympics


I’m not a big fan of nationalism, even when seen in the Olympics. I am a big fan of the country in the sky, though, particularly the night sky in the darkest-before-dawn when I’m out with the dog.

Here’s my pledge of allegiance, then, to that far away land, its president named Orion, its vice-president a bright and clever dog:


Another Country by Ken Craft

Under the frozen dome of December
mornings, the scrim of dawn
not even an orange thread
caught in the eastern branches,
I often marvel at the dog’s earthly
preoccupations when my nose,
called to greater heights, sniffs
at the cold and dry scent of the heavens.

His cold black snout, quivering
over a stale snowbank claimed
yesterday by some stray adversary,
is oblivious as the alpha dog
above us herds stars
and bounds at the heels
of his boreal master, belted
and deliberate in his stride.
In my heart I know that the crunch

of my blind boots in this darkness
carries an unearthly echo, that the stride
of the hunter heading for a hearth
deep under the western horizon
crackles over another country,
its frozen furrows black and uneven,
its broadcast ice studding the endless way.


©Ken Craft 2016, from The Indifferent World, Future Cycle Press

Take the Free Book (and the Long Odds)!


I’ve written about Goodreads’ Book Giveaways before. To say the least, I have ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, they’re good publicity for the little guy (read: humble author) who’s lost in a big jungle (read: the published world). On the other hand, the odds of winning (meaning you) are longer than a certain island off the Connecticut coast, and the odds of garnering a review (meaning me) are wider than a certain mouth in the White House.

In any event, for the third go-round, The Indifferent World, is now available as a Goodreads Giveaway until June 9th. Yes, you could win a signed first (and no-doubt last) edition for free, and yes, you could get hit by lightning (unsigned, I’m guessing), but that’s why Hope waited til last to slip out of Pandora’s box. It’s also why you might just enter your name.

I’m rooting for you, trust me. The fact that you’re reading this post tells me you’re a fan of poetry’s, or at the very least, a fan of writing’s. That means you’ll probably actually read the book if you win. It also means you’ll be kind enough to write a review.

If I could fix the damn giveaway, I would. This is the Age of Authoritarians, after all, so one can dream about silver linings that work in one’s favor, no? The past three GR Giveaway books I’ve mailed into the world, suitcases packed with destination stickers, have disappeared into a void. Nothing but nothing in response! Just Simon & Garfunkel’s dreaded “Sound of Silence” (cue melancholy disc jockey).

Those books, I fear, were snapped up by the Freebie Junkies, the professional Goodreads Giveaway people who have 398,875,193 books on their “To-Read” shelves and 0 books on their “Reviews” shelf.

But, no. This time–perhaps the last time–I have faith. And, as the New York Times has failed to publish this version of the “Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book” series, I’ll slip it in here in case free things intrigue you:

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

The idea lies in the first of the book’s four sections, titled “Woods & Lake.” This suite of poems was inspired by my years on a Maine lake where time seems to have stopped because not much has changed there since the Eisenhower Administration. Were he alive, even Thoreau would be at home there. (Thoreau gets a cameo in one of the poems, by the way).

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

By God, I can write poetry! Originally, the plan was to write short stories with a long-term plan for working up to novels. In fact, I actually completed a young adult novel in the 90s. The feedback from one New York editor was something to the effect of “wonderful descriptions… it’s the plot that needs attention!” Like my lake surroundings, my prose often took leisurely turns toward lyricism and imagery. Poetry in prose’s clothing, in other words! Coupling that realization with a full-tilt teaching schedule, my shift to the more compact (and challenging) genre was complete.

In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Some writers start with a master plan, an endgame in sight before the first word is writ. This would not be that book. The Indifferent World evolved as I wrote and rewrote it. Eventually I noticed common themes and grouped the poems accordingly. The four parts are entitled Woods & Lake, Homebodies, Mysteries, and The Indifferent World.

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Most of the book was written to his music. It fit the mood I was trying to create. I wanted the poems to be simple yet thoughtful, something readers could relate to. Like Pärt’s music.

Persuade someone to read “The Indifferent World” in less than 50 words.

The poetry is approachable. It’s also not afraid to break “rules” because, frankly, I was not up on the “rules” when I was writing it. I did not avoid certain words, like (gasp!) “darkness.” I did not avoid certain topics, like dog poems. Instead, I wrote what inspired me, figuring that would inspire readers, too.