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Chicago... Chapbook, Animal Shelter, Poems...
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The irrepressible aliveness and weird wisdom of the father and son series should win it a lasting place in the literature of our day. -Globe & Mail, Toronto.
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Devoting the weekend to pulling together a chapbook of animal poems. Weekend? I started the project in early January. Hoping to make progress this weekend and wrap it up… well, maybe in June or July. I dunno, I’ve seen something like 30 publications, books, chapbooks, etc., into print. It gets harder, not easier. The work is uneven. I get melancholy reading it. "What the fuck was I thinking?" Jesus! Do I want to save that? And, if I do, who's gonna want to read it? And in what order...? And does it even matter? How many people read books of poetry from beginning to the end? Personally, I usually read the last poem first. And that after thumbing through the thing to see if I even want to read it.

Chapbook: a tract written for popular reading, usually in the form of a pamphlet of 16 or 32 pages. A small booklet of poems, ballads or stories, originally sold by traveling peddlers. So says Encarta World English Dictionary.

Generally speaking, if it’s over 48 pages it’s a book. I’m told you need at least 48 pages to qualify for an ISBN number. If it’s under 48 pages, it’s not a book. My first chapbook, a collection of satires, won a contest (a long, long time ago!) and was published under the title Advertisements (Odyssey Chapbook Publications #1). Thanks to Ron Offen and Rob Cuscaden. Fellow Chicagoans, if I remember correctly.

All the poems in the new chapbook will be about dogs… and birds… and will likely have some illustrations. I just wanna create a shelter, animal shelter (?) for all those flawed, quirky four-legged and / or winged creatures I’ve written about for the last 50 years.

Certainly I was encouraged when, sifting and sorting, assembling a draft of the manuscript, I came across poet Theodore Holmes' review of Kissing the Dancer (Cornell University Press, 1964) in The Carleton Miscellany.

 'In the animal poems there is a bravery in the face of our limitations, a warmth for our absurdities, a way of life to be gleaned from our failings and ineptitudes… a self-critique that turns our 'freakishness' into an ironic source of fulfillment and transcendence.'

Half a century later I’m thinking, yeah, why not. Let's put ‘em all together and see what it looks like.

So I'll lead off with Uncle Dog: The Poet at 9 (previous blog entry) and follow with bizarre little poem called Chicago.

CHICAGO

There are many underground things
in cities, things like sewers,
that run for miles, lengths
and widths, across cities,
under all. Then there are
the basements of large stores,
houses and hotels, and often
these basements run for twenty feet
and more out, around the buildings;
and coal, garbage and all kinds
of food are sent up and down into
the basements, or out, from the side-
walks and the alleys and streets,
by chutes, corrugated elevator-
stands, iron platforms, sewer tops
…round, rectangular or square.

And these metal things in the sidewalks,
streets, are always rather warm;
and in the winter, to comfort
and unbitter their sittings,
haunches and tails, and to avoid
the asphalt ice and cold, cats
and dogs, stray squirrels
and so forth, come at night
and from miles around, rest
and together partake.

                And from some
distances, they and their live optic
green, brown congregations of eyes
appear as islands, still yellow
large, oval, gray or opalesque.

And no dog bites no cat, nor squirrel,
and all is quiet, idle, until the sun
comes up and chases them
out of the night, off the warmth
and good of the sewers to their parts
and tails. Then without a look
at the sun, itself, they run, trot
walking, no, no business into the snow.

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Reprinted from Four Incarnations, Coffee House Press, 1991, and The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press, 2004. Copyright © Robert Sward, 1991, 2004.