Auld Lang Syne

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pets and writing; I am probably stepping in it here

It keeps coming up. Chatter about the cats, the doggies, the fish swimming around and around in the bowl on the desk. Sigh. I read a blog this morning wherein the author apologized for not blogging because her kitty was sick. She thanked the person who gave her a recipe for tuna popsicles. Y I K E S !!! I read on another blog that the blogger's "muse" is her iguana. She "discusses" her writing with him, "gets his opinion" on revisions. In my opinion, these folks need therapy. The iguana blogger needs to take her meds. I need to hear about raspberry popsicles not tuna popsicles. Oh my... lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Before someone out there in blog-land decides I am a pet-hater, I will state that, although I am currently pet-free by choice, I have had beloved pets: cats, dogs, birds, fish. All of them are dead. All of those deaths hurt me. All of those pets enriched my life in some way, or the lives of my children. But I can say without reservation that I am not at all interested in pets that consume so much of a person's life that human beings take a back seat. My sister is one of those people for whom the dog is #1, excluding herself from visiting me because I don't want her to bring her terrier to my home. Sigh. When she once called me "Aunt Carol" to the dog, I drew the line. And listening to her refer to herself as the dog's "Mummy" sends me over the edge. How must that make her actual children feel?

But what does this have to do with writing? There are tons of poems out there dealing with pets, immortalizing pets, including pets in some way. I have to say that never in my experience have I seen one of these poems where the inclusion of the pet made the poem better than it would have been with the pet OUT of the poem.

As poetry editor of Pulse Literary Journal ( I get submissions of "pet poems" all the time. I never take them, never publish them. It is not that I hate pets, but that the poems are not good. I don't care that the dog nuzzled the author and made the author cry for missing her dead mother. I don't care that the cat seems almost human in the way she touches her paw to the author's cheek to wake her. Really, it is not the stuff of poetry. It well may be the stuff of kiddie lit, but not poetry. (By the way, here is where I have probably stepped in it.)

This is not saying that animals should not be in poems. WC Williams and his white chickens for example: right way to include animals, as symbolic of something else, of a greater truth.And of course there is the long poem by T S Eliot that led to the play, CATS. Well done, pertinent symbol of the workings of humanity. But let's not get all Bambi or Old Yeller here. Enough with the Lassie Come Home approach to writing about animals or including them in our poems. Make that animal or pet work for his spot in your poem.

Having said this, I would love to hear from you who hold the opposite opinion here. I'd love to see a poem or two where having the pet as a featured character is not sappy or schmaltzy. Come on, make me take back my words!

Meanwhile, I am still happily pet-free and writing without having to consult my hamster or my goldfish.


  1. February

    By Margaret Atwood

    Winter. Time to eat fat
    and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the
    a black fur sausage with yellow
    Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
    to get onto my head. It’s his
    way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
    If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
    He’ll think of something. He settles
    on my chest, breathing his breath
    of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
    purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
    not yet a capon, has been spraying our front
    declaring war. It’s all about sex and
    which are what will finish us off
    in the long run. Some cat owners around here
    should snip a few testicles. If we wise
    hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
    or eat our young, like sharks.
    But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
    again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
    crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the
    eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
    thirty below, and pollution pours
    out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
    February, month of despair,
    with a skewered heart in the centre.
    I think dire thoughts, and lust for French
    with a splash of vinegar.
    Cat, enough of your greedy whining
    and your small pink bumhole.
    Off my face! You’re the life principle,
    more or less, so get going
    on a little optimism around here.
    Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

  2. Well, I am still not impressed with cat poems; this doesn't change my mind, even if it is written by Atwood. Good try though, Judy! Thanks.