Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life, death, hounds and haiku: my take on two dog books

Celebrate the dog
In poetry, art and song:
Please do so with verve.

I eagerly looked forward to  The Hound Dog's Haiku and Other Poems for Dog Lovers. The team of Michael J. Rosen and one of my favorite illustrators, Mary Azarian, should be a winning combination.

However, I should have realized the task of using that meditative poetic form on a canine is something like putting together Mom and T'ai Chi: some things just don't go together, at least not in this volume. Mom's a fan of Rosen's The Cuckoo's Haiku and Other Birding Poems, but this collection just doesn't capture the uniqueness of the dog. I thought the rather abstract poems could almost could have been written about any creature.

For example, the Bluetick Coonhound's poem describes the dog resting in a straw-filled house. OK, but the creature really could be anything—a rabbit, say. The notes that Rosen provides do explain his thinking around the poems, but for me, and for Mom, they just weren't doggy enough. I'd like to see the pawing at the bedding, the settling down, the getting up again to rearrange the stuffing, the circling around to tamp things down just right, and maybe the big sigh when that perfect ratio of stuffing to dog is achieved. Most of the other poems fell short for me. Too bad.

A pet's death is just about the worst thing in the world, and I thought nothing could match Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven. That book was so true that it made Dad cry after Sparky died. But Mom and I both approved of Barbara Walsh's Sammy in the Sky (though we don't love the title), illustrated by Jamie Wyeth. Sammy's a hound who's lucky enough to love and be loved: he's "the best hound dog in the whole world."

Now, you might think I could disagree with that statement, but I know that to a child, their dog is the best. That's the way it should be. And it's OK to grieve when that best-loved creature is gone. Jamie Wyeth's paintings add much beauty and emotion to this story. Paws up.