friday feast: bark if you approve

by Stephen Dobyns

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and his dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let’s go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let’s tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.


(Read the rest here.)

Early this morning I was awakened by the first cool air of Fall.

Yep, it’s really coming. It’ll be official on Monday.

Autumn is definitely my favorite season, but its beauty is always tempered by feelings of unease. Another year is ending, where did the time go, have I made any progress — you know, things like that.

So I was thrilled to stumble upon “How to Like It,” by Stephen Dobyns. Maybe you’re already familiar with his work, but he’s new to me. I think he’s one of a very small number of “academics” whose poetry is actually accessible. I’d encountered so many professorial types before whose work was just too obscure and frustrating.

I found “How to Like It” both comic and profound, exacting, a balm to my weary spirit, refreshing and charming. I love how introspection is intertwined with matter-of-fact reality. There is much to be learned from the instinctual, spontaneous life of a dog! And, finally, now I know why I look in the refrigerator so often :).

I look forward to reading more of Dobyns’ poems, and peeking into his highly regarded, Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry (Palgrave Macmillian, 2003).

I highly recommend reading this two-part interview (bookmark it for later if you don’t have time now). It’s like a mini poetry class, and many of the things he discusses (including why some poets write obscure poetry) will resonate, I promise.

Two excerpts:

Language is always a diminishment of what it’s attempting to describe, and thinking of the critical things we know, all those which are critic-based are, for the most part, a diminishment of an idea.

I’m trying to deal with the world, to understand it in some way, to pass to some other kind of level below its surface. The question — it’s been said — that exists in every work of art, poetry or fiction and, I suppose, maybe even in music and painting, is the question How does one live?

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at author amok.

*Don’t forget: You have until midnight tonight (EST) to leave a comment at my interview with Maha Addasi, for a chance to win a signed, personalized copy of The White Nights of Ramadan.

Have a beautiful weekend!

23 thoughts on “friday feast: bark if you approve

  1. I will bookmark to read more!
    Fall is my favorite time of year, too! It always has been. Back to school, harvest time, crisp air, beautiful colors, holidays on the way… ah, Fall!


  2. I loved the poem, too. “Comic and profound” is just right. And I loved the line, “This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.” 🙂
    Autumn is my favorite time of year, too. For me, it’s a coming-alive again after the wilting of summer.
    “Don’t be morbid,” Jordan said. “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” (The Great Gatsby)


  3. whoa, criticism as diminishment of an idea. Jama, this was just what I needed to hear today as I go to meeting of instructors who are, ahem, going to be diminishing away.
    I’m so much more with E.B. White, in response to a scholarly analysis. “It is an extraordinary document… and it makes me realize how lucky I was (when I was writing the book) that I didn’t know what in “h xxx” was going on.”
    I’m bookmarking!!


  4. Why does everything feel so achingly poignant to me today? I just adore this poem, Jama. The juxtaposition and total alliance of man and dog, humor and existential angst. I’m going to read it again now. Thanks…


  5. Can you hear me barking?
    Elaine M.
    Great post! Love the poem!!! Fall is definitely my favorite season, too. I know I’ve read poems by Dobyns before–but I don’t own a book of his poetry. I think I’ll order a copy of BEST WORDS, BEST ORDER.


  6. “…both comic and profound, exacting, a balm to my weary spirit, refreshing and charming. I love how introspection is intertwined with matter-of-fact reality.”
    Your commentary is as perfect as the poem!
    I also love his observation that language is “a diminishment.” It ties in nicely with something else I read this week about the way naming things changes their reality.


  7. Re: Can you hear me barking?
    Yes I can!! Yes we can (that sounds familiar, where have I heard it before)?
    Anyway, love your bark, Elaine! Hope you find many gems of inspiration in Dobyns’ essays. I’m anxious for my copy to arrive.


  8. It astounds me that every day when I leave and come back to the house (even if I’ve been gone for 10 minutes) my dog acts like I’m the prodigal daughter.
    I’m loving this poem. Maybe I’ll read it to my dog. 🙂
    And I put the book on my TBR virtual pile, and I bookmarked the essays.
    Wow. You’ve given me quite a to-do list today.


  9. OH. MY. GOD. Yes, we read each other’s minds this week. I just fell in love with that poem. I might just print THAT and say to my husband, “read this. *This* is how I felt this week.” Thankyouthankyou.
    That really captures …. I’m almost speechless. Captures so many things so well. That’s a hardly a profound comment, but I’m off to read it again.


  10. From Sherry at Semicolon
    that’s where the man’s
    wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
    as if into the place where the answers are kept —

    Oh, yes, I do that all the time.
    My children do that all the time.
    Refrigerators should have answers to all life’s questions.


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