Tuesday Poem: Dogs, by John Horrocks

I have three dogs:

Top- fast and lean. Half Labrador, he sidles around like a furtive waiter,
hoping for the tip he never earned.

Jack – he’s clever but too old. When a bitch is on heat he wanders away
and looks for food.

Boy – good-natured, though he eats chooks. My favourite.
A good worker if not tired from chasing rabbits.

Hats are back! I was surprised to see a dog
in a chic little place in Willis Street.
I was sipping caffe latte and taking in
the ambience – those rimu floorboards,
a real fire in the hearth, crazy
hats with flowers and jewels
hanging from wires.
Tongues spoke from a painting
of melting heads with a German
message … about Zeit?
and there was a cool young poet
reading of places like St Peter’s, Paris, Pamplona.
Time indeed for reverie, a step back,
lost in that audience where mulled
glowed in slender hands,
the world and all its destinations
swirling in the whirligig of words.
I wanted to hold the moment,
say, “Wait, this is beautiful.”
Banal maybe, but i did feel something
more than merely satisfying.
Then in that moment of completeness
this scruffy devil of a dog appeared.
It went straight to me,
ignored every poetaster
and beautiful person,
then sniffed at each of my shoes
as if to say,
“What are you doing here – you
interesting person?
Where are your dogs?”

Credit note: “Dogs” is from John Horrocks’ collection Raw Places (Steele Roberts, 2005), and is reproduced by kind permission of the author. This version has some minor variations from the version that appears in “Dogs”.
Tim says: John and I met last year when we read together at a poetry event at the Greytown Arts Festival organised by the rather wonderful Madeleine Marie Slavick. Afterwards, there was lots of swapping of poetry collections among the nine poets who took part, and I thereby obtained a copy of John’s collection Raw Places. John is a farmer as well as a poet, and many of the poems are about his farm in the Wairarapa – but as a country boy trying to make good in the big city myself (cue banjo music), “Dogs” especially resonated with me. John tells me the poem is based on an actual event that happened to him at a Jenny Bornholdt reading.

An unrelated note: I attended the first New Zealand Poetry Society Wellington meeting of the year last night, where there were two guest poets: Andrew Nancea recent graduate of the Iowa Creative Writing programme, who is currently teaching at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, and Colin Patterson from Leeston: “Colin is a retired farmer and unlikely poet, who entered his writing career late but with gusto. He is well-known around the South Island for his hearty performances.”

It would be almost impossible to imagine two more contrasting male poets in genre, style and presentation – the witty, sophisticated, drawling American with his retinue of poetry students in summer frocks, followed by Colin Patterson’s archetypal (and beautifully-performed) bush poetry – but I enjoyed them both. It was a great way to kick off the Poetry Society’s year. 

The Tuesday Poem: Features the strong devoted.

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Dogs, by John Horrocks

  1. I've been collecting poems relating to dogs, Tim, so I'll add this my pile. I've recently set six of the poems to music and hope to present them later in the year at a concert. The dog focus is no doubt helped by the fact that we have our first dog ever living in the house…

  2. Fantastic, Tim. I love Raw PLaces – a terrific book. John has other dog poems in there which I've heard read too and I thought this was one of them – but, no, when I arrived on your blog I see it's a different one. It's just lovely and just what a dog does – finds the people in the room who are clearly in a relationship with a dog or dogs and then won't leave them alone. The only thing is, John was a farmer but no longer – now he lives in Days Bay and writes poems about the sea…. and as far as I know, has no dogs. Tell me, too, the small print at the top of the poem is by way of explanation, not part of the poem? I could check my copy but I'd have to climb the stairs and get it…

  3. Such an enjoyable piece this one. The author laughing at himself… Such a contrast between the sophisticates and the dog with a nose for poetry! Thanks for posting it:-)

  4. Thanks, Mike, Mary and Helen!Mike, I like the sound of that concert! If you want to get in touch with John about setting this poem, please let me know and I'll pass on the details.Mary, thanks for the update about John! The lines in small font at the top are part of the poem – blame Blogger's inadequate font control, or my inadequate control of it, for their small size!Glad you enjoyed the poem, Helen.

  5. Good to hear, Mike, that you are making a collection of dog poems – can't imagine such a series on opossums or ferrets, though if Gareth Morgan has his way we might see some eulogies about missing cats. I've also written a few poems about shearing sheds. With so many poets about, one has to establish a niche somehow!

  6. Such a fun poem. I love the easy voice here, the conversational tone. And the way the dog addresses him too — \”you interesting person\” — such a great moment.

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