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UNCLE DOG: THE POET AT 9

UNCLE DOG: THE POET AT 9

I did not want to be old Mr.

Garbage man, but uncle dog

who rode sitting beside him.

 
Uncle dog had always looked

to me to be truck-strong

wise-eyed, a cur-like Ford

 
Of a dog.  I did not want

to be Mr. Garbage man because

all he had was cans to do.

 
Uncle dog sat there me-beside-him

emptying nothing.  Barely even

looking from garbage side to side:

 
Like rich people in the backseats

of chauffeur-cars, only shaggy

in an unwagging tall-scrawny way.

 
Uncle dog belonged any just where

he sat, but old Mr. Garbage man

had to stop at everysingle can.

 
I thought.  I did not want to be Mr.

Everybody calls them that first.

A dog is said, Dog!  Or by name.

 
I would rather be called Rover

than Mr.  And sit like a tough

smart mongrel beside a garbage man.

 

Uncle dog always went to places

unconcerned, without no hurry.

Independent like some leashless

 
Toot.  Honorable among scavenger

can-picking dogs.  And with a bitch

at every other can.  And meat:

 
His for the barking.  Oh, I wanted

to be uncle dog--sharp, high fox-

eared, cur-Ford truck-faced

 
With his pick of the bones.

A doing, truckman's dog

and not a simple child-dog

 
Nor friend to man, but an uncle

traveling, and to himself--

and a bitch at every second can.

 

(reprinted from "The Voice That Is Great Within Us, American Poetry of the 20th Century," edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam Books)

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"The Voice That Is Great Within Us, American Poetry 20th Century

Late one evening at 604 S.Clinton St., Iowa City, Iowa, infant daughter asleep in my lap, my just having read Dylan Thomas' "Portrait of the Artist" and James Joyce's "Ulysses," I found myself scribbling and the lines (so it seemed to me) falling naturally into three-line stanzas. In 1957 the Iowa Poetry Workshop was a haven for formalists and students of the New Criticism (see Brooks and Warren, "Undersanding Poetry", etc.), and, odd man out, I was working in free verse.

Anyway, writing from the "child's point of view", hearing the voice, my own voice, so to speak, the hearing for the first time what seemed... utterly natural and true to my experience, that is, a 9-year-old kid relating to the life of a garbage man's dog, a life of an Ulysses-like wanderer, aloof, gypsy-like, nomadic, the rag and bone shop of Chicago's rich and magical garbage and the dog, filled wth self-esteem and a sense of purpose, keeping his head high, mangy alley work in no way problematic, maintaining dignity... ah, I dunno, I'm just chattrering. But something of that. Something of that underlies "Uncle Dog: The Poet at 9" and the poem as it was written, and the poem as I experience it now, 2013, more than 50 years later.

 

 

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"The Voice That Is Great Within Us, American Poetry 20th Century

The Voice That is Great Within us, American Poetry of the 20th Century, edited by Hayden Carruth, includes "Uncle Dog: The Poet at 9" and a second poem, "Concert," excerpted from Horgbortom Stringbottom, I am Yours, You are History (Swallow Press, 1970).

I have never understood the bio which reads, "Sward worked for seven years in a canning factory on the South Side of Chicago." True, I've held some odd jobs over the years, but never worked in a canning factory, nor, for that matter never lived on the South Side of Chicago.

Nonetheless, grateful to be included in Hayden Carruth's anthology.