Dogs and their poems

July 1, 2013 § 2 Comments

While procrastinating, tempted to do so by an article by Bruno Latour, I clicked my way absent-mindedly through the Facebook news feed until a post of a friend: Actor Jimmy Steward recites a poem to his beloved dog. That got me. It’s a touching and sweet and funny recitation.
It’s comforting to see that I’m not the only sentimental one who wrote a poem for the dog they lost. Jimmy Stewart is of course much more of a writer of poems than me, but still. It made me dig out the poem I wrote about my first dog, my kelpie Fin, when she was dying. I wanted to let my friends know where she was at; I had had an emotional day, struggling with the knowledge of what the impending loss would mean. Back then I was reading Patricia McConnell’s book For the Love of a Dog. In it she encourages dog owners to see themselves through their dog’s eyes. If the dogs could write down what we do around them (and sadly often to them), what would they write. I had started out trying to do that for Fin, but I ended up just wanting to write about Fin and me. And I wanted to share it with my friends. So I wrote that poem and emailed it to my friends back then.
While out for a walk with a friend and the dogs today, we talked about soul dogs. This made me think about my kelpie. It’s been more than a year since I lost her, and it still hurts. I still feel her. I still look down at my feet on walks and I still startle when she is not there. So here it goes.

Fin, to her human

I’ll be at your feet

While you write, while you read, and while you sleep. 

Until I smell 

an antechinus, or a mouse, or a cat. 

Until I hear 

the waterhose, with my neighbour, 

waiting for me to come and play. 

Until I sense

a tennis ball—somewhere, anywhere

Then I chase. 

I come back and get you. Drop.  

And your feet and my paws run together. 

And later, when we sit down and look out at the world together

I lean into you

and you rub my belly 

while I smile my kelpie smile.

Fin

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And more

Jimmy Stewart’s poem to his dog.

More about Fin. 

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The black dog (WG Sebald)

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

We made our way back on foot. For both of us the walk proved too long. Downcast we strode on in the autumn sunshine, side by side. The houses of Kritzendorf seemed to go on forever. Of the people who lived there not a sign was to be seen. They were all having lunch, clattering the cutlery and plates. A dog leapt at a green-painted iron gate, quite beside itself, as if it had taken leave of its senses. It was a large black Newfoundland, its natural gentleness broken by ill-treatment, long confinement or even the crystal clarity of the autumn day. In the villa behind the iron fence nothing stirred. Nobody came to the window, not even a curtain moved. Again and again the animal ran up and hurled itself at the gate, only occasionally pausing to eye us where we stood as if transfixed. As we walked on I could feel the chill of terror in my limbs. Ernst turned to look back once more at the black dog, which had now stopped barking and was standing motionless in the midday sun. Perhaps we should have let it out. It would probably have ambled along beside us, like a good beast, while its evil spirit might have stalked among the people of Kritzendorf in search of another host, and indeed might have entered them all simultaneously, so not one of them would have been able to lift a spoon or fork again.
(WG Sebald, 1990, Vertigo)

The large black Newfoundland. One of the many dogs in WG Sebald’s work.Here the dog is menacing. But not as the dog that rushes the fence (although that seems to be a deeply ingrained fear for many), but as the black dog that figures depression. The narrator in Vertigo visits his friend Ernst, who has lived most of his life in a mental institution. Both are dealing with mental illness and in this episode they literally walk into the terror of it.

In Vertigo, as in Sebald’s other work, the dog mostly is a melancholy omen of actual or potential illness. As someone living with dogs, I find this aspect of Sebald’s work difficult to reconcile with that so much of his work is inspired by dogs. In an often quoted interview Sebald talks about how he has always had dogs and how the dog running in the field, following his nose, has taught him about writing and about walking and finding things.

For me, my dogs bring so much happiness and fun and laughter into my life; I cannot think easily of dogs as harbingers of bad things. But there is, of course, a long tradition in folklore of the dog as bad omen. And particularly the black dog.

There is also a dog in the cover photograph of my Penguin Books 2005 edition of Campo Santo, a collection of Sebald’s writings published after his death. It is a Kertesz photo of the church in Piana, Corsica, 1932. Men clad in black and in hats are lined up sitting outside the church, in the shade. It is probably a Sunday. A yellow, or white, dog shares the shadow of the church with them.

The photo is so Sebaldian in its style that I wonder whether it might have been one of the remembered images at the core of Sebald’s writing process: “[…] and on a walk there a remembered image came into my mind”, he writes somewhere in one of the pieces in Campo Santo. I can’t remember where, but it might have been the title essay, based on Sebald walking in Corsica. André Kertesz, of course, was a poet among photographers, observing the everyday, the easily missed moments. So here a dog as part of everyday life. No matter whether white, or black.

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Statue in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens

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And more

Interview by Joe Cuomo with Sebald talking about dogs and writing

W.G. Sebald and the Writing of History (ed. by Anne Fuchs and J. Jonathan James Long 2007)

Weekly photo challenge: the world through your eyes

June 22, 2013 § 7 Comments

This week’s photo challenge: the world through your eyes reminds us to observe before we take a photo. I’m still suspicious of my camera, and still wonder at the impulse to run off for the camera at the glimpse of something without even having looked. This idea that we’ve just seen ‘a good photo’. In my garden, I often watch scenes for weeks before I take a photo. This bird comes back really often, to sit in the first morning sun.

Hello Trouble!

June 16, 2013 § 2 Comments

Pinot is trouble. “Hello trouble!”, my neighbour says every time he sees her. “Hello trouble!”, or “Here comes trouble!”; this is one of my new puppy’s nicknames. I remember a Facebook post with a series of photos of catastrophes, earthquakes, floods, and the like. And then a photo of a border collie puppy in amongst the shreds of something now unrecognisable he has shredded. Meticulously shredded.

Pinot, one could say, is a little bit like that. Maybe I should have taken the momentousness of the question ‘Should I get a second dog?’ more seriously. Life was much, much easier with just one dog. And almost every day hears me moaning to the sky, or the earth, or a friend that I know nothing about dogs and training after all and what an idiot I was to fancy I could be a dog trainer. But hey, she’s a puppy. And as a friend of mine says, one of the ugly things we see in a lot of dog training is this intense obsession with control in so much of today’s life. We must control our partner, our children, our dogs, our cats. Puppy must learn controlled sits, downs, and whatever position. Puppy must sit when we say, every time we say so. Even if we say it a hundred times a day, and even if all puppy wants to do is go and explore the world with us.

Pinot is now almost seven months old and full of life. Here is what I have learned about her life in the two months we’ve lived together:

  • Seatbelts must be chewed. Oh the pull on them and the texture; it’s all just pure chewiness.
  • Four paws are for running. You must run, run, run on them, even when they get tangled and you fall over and even when someone somewhere in the distance implores you to come back.
  • Waterbowls really are just dive pools in disguise.
  • Chimneys are going somewhere you haven’t sniffed yet, so you must at least try and climb them. Even if then you and a lot of other things are black.
  • You must let people know you reckon they are a bit of o’right by jumping up on them and grin. Sitting back and looking at them as if to check them out … oh no. You wouldn’t want them to think you think they look funny.
  • Never let go of a tug toy if you can help it.
  • Chicken are cool. Real cool. So cool you just must stare at them. Even touch them, if you can.
  • Holes must be dug big enough to hopefully bury a sheep in it. You never know, you might find a sheep some day.
  • Any dogs that still are there when you wake up in the morning are there for jumping onto and roll around with.
  • If you are happy, just bark. No need to hold back on joy.
Pinot puppet. Aka Little Black-and-White Terror. Aka Muppet. Aka Hello Trouble.

Pinot puppet. Aka Little Black-and-White Terror. Aka Muppet. Aka Hello Trouble.

Weekly photo challenge: curves

June 15, 2013 § 11 Comments

WordPress’s daily post weekly photo challenge: curves. Latin curare ‘to bend’. From curvus ‘bent’. Always makes me think of Tūī. Our endemic honeyeater bird that is such an acrobat in search of nectar.

Weekly photo challenge: Fleeting

June 9, 2013 § 8 Comments

Fleeting. In Wellington that’s wind. Just again and again. So why not celebrate it, like with these Chinese wind wheels.

Listening to the wind at Under the Sails, Queen's Wharf, Wellington.

Listening to the wind at Under the Sails, Queen’s Wharf, Wellington.

Te Matau a Maui in Te Whanganui a Tara

June 7, 2013 § Leave a comment