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The Waggiest Tails: Poems written by dogs5/5

The Waggiest Tails: Poems written by dogs

Brian Moses

Review

This is another anthology from the small and discerning imprint, Otter Barry Books. Their four annual poetry book showcase both well-known and up and coming poets. They have a keen sense for what's innovative, funny, deft and child friendly. This anthology is no exception. Whether you are a dog lover or not, you will be delighted by these irrepressibly doggy voices, so ably supported by Brian Moses and Roger Stevens (both of whom have dog-owning and poetic credentials!).

Writing in the first person (of course - this is a consistently doggy lens), these clever poets (sorry, dogs) have given us a wonderful array of canine verse.

The anthology takes its title from 'Dog Show' (p.74, Moses) which leads us through all the categories that this dog didn't win. These all have their own back-stories: imagine the fun children could have devising and illustrating the scenarios for 'the Obedience Class', 'Fastest sausage eater' and 'Temptation Alley'. And the final winner is, proudly bearing its No 1 WAG medal (delightfully depicted in Ed Boxall's illustration), 'The Dog with the Waggiest Tail'.

There are dogs here that you'd love to meet: 'Bruno, the Smallest Dog' (p.22, Moses) whose 'quiet little bark / doesn't scare anyone,' and who likes it best when 'someone lifts me up // and finds that special place / for a vigorous tummy rub // You should see the grin / on my face. But you definitely wouldn't want to meet the 'Security Dog' (p.36, Moses):'Ain't got no time / for no yakety-yak, / we're primed and loaded, / out to attack...//. And you probably don't want to hear the dog in 'Call me Yappy' (p.18, Stevens): he's not 'nappy', 'lappy' or 'snappy' but - and it-s a big but - 'when my master says Sit/ I have to admit I'm a yap yap yap yap / yap yap yap yap yap yap / yap yap yap yap yap yap / yappy dog//'. As with so many of the poems in this collection, the potential for performance is immense (and in the case of this poem would be appropriately irritating!).

If you're thinking of investing in a puppy, you would do well to heed the puppy's warning in 'Don't Wanna' (p.21, Stevens): 'I don't wanna go to bed / don't wanna get up / don't wanna stop chewing / that smelly sock/.

A cautionary note is sounded in 'It's your Fault' (p.68, Stevens): 'If you're going to leave the salmon / in clear view on the table / If you're going to leave the pie / on the window ledge... Well, you deserve to have it eaten / That's all I can say.// There are shades here of William Carlos' 'This is just to say', (a poem by the way that Stevens has addressed - literally - in 'Please Note' from 'The Monster who ate the Universe').

As we would expect from these poets (sorry dogs) of this calibre, word play abounds and there are plenty of poems that offer models for the children's own writing. The list poem, 'I Love to Chase' (p.16, Moses), for instance makes clever use of nouns and adverbs: 'I love to chase / cows courageously / squirrels spectacularly - and / CATS of all kinds /. 'What I am' (p.17, Moses) draws on the ancient kenning tradition ('human walker / cat stalker / biscuit catcher/'), again a form that is ripe for children to emulate.

It is not all humour: there are serious themes running through the collection as well. 'Rescue Dog' (p.82, Moses) takes the form of a touching appeal to a new owner: 'I come from a place / of bleakness and blindness,/ - So tell me again / that you realise / why my eyes are filled with fear./.

The strands of humour and tenderness that permeate this collection are beautifully complemented by Ed Boxall's endearing line drawings. Full colour wagging tailed dogs adorn the cover warmly inviting the child reader in to this delightful anthology. Barking mad... not a bit of it!

Reviewed by: Alison Kelly