Who can resist a good dog book? OK so there are a few cat people out there (right here beside me in fact), and bird people, snake people, even for Heaven’s sake, skunk lovers and gerbil-groomers. But what makes this book special is that it’s a book of poems that gives tribute to the special dogs in renowned nature poet Mary Oliver’s life.
There’s Luke, the junkyard dog, Benjamin, the canine that is always dragging a chewed-through rope, Bear the small curly-haired who hates to stay overnight at boarding, Bazougey “that dark little dog/ who used to come down the road barking and shining,” Ricky, the talker, and Percy named after the famous poet Shelley. Oliver penned a tribute to this hound mischievously patterned after Christopher Smart’s “For I will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey.”
Luke was “born in a junkyard, / not even on a bundle of rags/ or the seat of an old wrecked car/ but the dust below.” This beautiful German Shepherd loved flowers: “her dark head// and her wet nose/ touching/ the face/ of everyone.” In the poem’s closing Oliver expresses one thing dogs show us about the world: “we long to be--/ that happy/ in the heaven of earth--/ that wild, that loving.”
The poems included here really capture the dogness of dogs: their wild energy, love of the outdoors and running, their way of sniffing knowledge from the world. A few are also very sad, especially “Her Grave.” Here is a section of it, “It took four of us to carry her into the woods./ We did not think of music,/ but anyway, it began to rain/ slowly.// Her wolfish, invitational half-pounce.// Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.”
The essay concerns what happens when a stern rule-bound person takes over the dog catcher position in Oliver’s small Massachusetts coastal town. Luckily, he doesn’t last long and someone with a freer attitude takes over.
Because there were a bunch of holds, I read this book on my Kindle. The illustrations are more appealing on paper. But no matter—many of the poems were gems and the essay entertained me.