Dogs have been man’s best friend since time immemorial, and as such have barked, bounded and tail-wagged their way through our stories probably as long as people have been telling them. A cat will certainly curl up on your lap and keep you warm while you’re immersed in a good book (if you’re lucky – my two were far too aloof/temperamental/downright vicious to engage much in that sort of endearing behaviour) but a dog will come to the bookstore with you, bounce around and charm all the booksellers while you’re there, carry your purchase home for you (if they’re VERY well trained!) and THEN curl up with you while you read. Or, in my dog’s case, sprawl out on the sofa and somehow manage to take up nearly all of it even though he’s not that big, leaving you squashed in a corner and half dangling over one arm in an attempt to secure the last remaining square inches of space for yourself. Where indeed would we be without our canine companions? Jerome K Jerome’s three men sailed down the Thames but their voyage would have been unthinkable without Montmorency the fox-terrier. Argos proved to be the ultimate epitome of love and loyalty when he was the only one to recognise his master Odysseus after an absence of twenty years. And of course the Famous Five would have been the Famous Four without Timmy. Every now and then a slightly less adorable dog pops up amongst the heroes – who could forget Bill Sykes’ menacing dog Bulls-eye, a canine reflection of his master’s vicious nature? For the most part though, dogs are the warm heart of fiction just as they are the heart of so many of our lives. They’ve also inspired countless poets over the centuries; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “To Flush, my Dog” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Power of the Dog” can both make me well up at the drop of a hat, but one of the loveliest and most astute little dog poems is by Ogden Nash:
“The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love.
I’ve also found, by actual test,
A wet dog is the lovingest.”
On a more serious note, when we were fist considering getting a dog we read countless books offering wildly different theories on dog behaviour and training. Initially it was because we were dog-owning newbies and had absolutely no idea what we were doing; however, for me it grew into a genuine fascination with dogs and their world that I still have today. Out of all the books I read on the subject my favourite is “In Defence of Dogs” by John Bradshaw – and the reason? Because after a lifetime of studying canine science, he concludes that the dogs we love today aren’t, as some have suggested, wolf-like creatures who are in a constant battle to become dominant over their human owners, but rather companionable, affectionate animals who want nothing more than to be part of a loving family group. If you have even the tiniest bit of affection for dogs, I’d really recommend you read it.
This post is dedicated to my beautiful dog Henry, who finally left us a few days ago after almost fourteen joyful years. I’m raising a glass of raspberry gin to him right now!
I have a very quick little post for you today. I’d like to share one of my favourite poems with you all; not to analyse it or pull it to pieces in an attempt to fathom what poetic techniques are employed to make it so good, but just to share the words because they are so powerful and pertinent. We never know how much time we have, and Larkin’s closing phrase is a plea to which we should all listen. I have nothing else to say today – this eloquent poem speaks for itself. Happy reading.
Every once in a while fate has an uncanny way of delivering the right book into your hands at exactly the right moment. I recently spent an hour reading “Milk and Honey” precisely at a point in my life when I needed to hear its words, absorb its sentiments and have someone tell me I wasn’t alone. Honestly, it’s as if it had been written just for me.
It’s a collection of poems, but not, I think, one designed to be dipped in and out of; it lends itself to being read in one wrenching go. It begins by chronicling the sexual and emotional abuse the author endured in her younger years, before moving on to love, loss and finally ruminations on femininity and how the poet’s relationships with men have influenced the way she views herself. The poems are for the most part stark and sparse, and the vocabulary she chooses is often relatively simple; the cleverness lies in the way she arranges these somewhat unremarkable words into such striking, searing combinations. Many poems are only a few words long, but these were actually some of my favourites. There are just so many I’d like to share on here, but these are just a couple of the shorter ones that stood out for me:
the idea that we are
so capable of love
but still choose
to be toxic
we are all born
the greatest tragedy is
being convinced we are not
Many of the poems are written in this way, without capitalisation or punctuation, and as such they come across as spontaneous bursts of thought; authentic, heartfelt and without artifice.
I was having a conversation with someone the other day about poetry and how hard it is to get up the courage to share what you’ve written; I remarked that I feel it’s the most personal form of writing there is, hence the hesitation over making it public. The impression I was left with at the end of “Milk and Honey” was of a poet who has been incredibly brave in committing her most personal, in many cases traumatic, experiences to paper. I for one am so glad she did so. Although the abusive aspect of her life is, mercifully, not something I have suffered myself, her candid meditations on love, desire and the issues that cloud loving relationships are exactly the thoughts I would have expressed if I’d had the talent to put them into words in this way. To know that the feelings which constantly batter and torment your mind are shared by someone else is like a burden being lifted. I only hope I can emerge into the state of positivity that seeps into some of the later poems; this courageous and insightful young woman has inspired me to try and do so.
If you’re at all interested in poetry, read this. If you are a woman then definitely read this. Rupi Kaur is truly the mouthpiece of millions.