The Poetry of Dogs

Dakota, our resident hound, is a frequent distraction during my day. He alerts me to the mail carrier and UPS driver long before they reach our house. He enjoys going in and out approximately 756 times a day. He warns of deer, cranes, raccoons, and more. And of course he likes to walk every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet, mosquitoes or not. BUT, he is also a source of inspiration.

Many of my favorite poets have written about dogs. Early in my writing-poetry-for-kids journey, I read Joyce Sidman’s The World According to Dog. Allergies and insomnia keep me from sharing bed space with the hound, but that does not stop my admiration of “Dog in Bed.”

Dog in Bed
Nose tucked under tail,
you are a warm, furred planet
centered in my bed.
All night I orbit, tangle-limbed,
in the slim space
allotted to me.

If I accidentally
bump you from sleep,
you shift, groan,
drape your chin on my hip.

O, that languid, movie-star drape!
I can never resist it.
Digging my fingers into your fur,
I wonder:
How do you dream?
What do you adore?
Why should your black silk ears
feel like happiness?

Read the rest of the poem here. That final question–why should your black silk ears feel like happiness?–was clearly written about my hound.

When we got Dakota as a rescue dog three years ago, he had boundless energy. We had no idea how old he was or how long he had spent on the mean streets of northern Michigan where he was picked up as a stray, but he has slowed and calmed a bit since then. He’s now content to snooze on a hot summer afternoon, like the dog in Valerie Worth’s small poems:


Under a maple tree
the dog lies down,
Lolls his limp
Tongue, yawns,
Rests his long chin
Carefully between
Front paws;
Looks up, alert;
Chops, with heavy
Jaws, at a slow fly,
Blinks, rolls
On his side,
Sighs, closes
His eyes: sleeps
All afternoon
In his loose skin.
-Valerie Worth

Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs is another canine poetry treasure. The collection captures the joy of watching dogs, of imagined conversations, of unconditional love. Several of the poems are featured on brain pickings. Here’s one of my favorites:

The Storm

Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.
Oh, I could not have said it better
Mary Oliver

I’ll end with a poem that I wrote soon after Dakota became a part of our family, in response to Irene Latham’s invitation to write about wild things to celebrate her blogiversary. “Dog Days” was published a couple of months ago in Spider. One day of the hound’s life became a whole pack of dog- park dogs in the clever illustration.

Sylvia has the Poetry Friday roundup at Poetry for Children, along with an introduction to GREAT MORNING, her latest anthology with Janet Wong. The book has a unique audience: it’s a collection of poems written for school principals to read aloud during morning announcements. I’m honored to have written a poem for the book called “Cat Coder” about writing a computer program. (I know a whole lot more about dogs than computer programming, but fortunately could consult with my computer-savvy offspring.)

27 thoughts on “The Poetry of Dogs

  1. Valerie Worth’s poem reminds me so much of our loose-skinned, lazy beagle. We’re about to celebrate the third anniversary of his adoption from a shelter! Thanks for the fine canine verse, Buffy.

  2. I love ALL these dog poems, but your poem especially – “A tang of sky”!
    I’ve never allowed our dogs on the bed. We’ve always had big dogs and the cat takes up enough room al on his own! Those soft ears are so irresistable!

  3. I’ve never owned a dog, but I love dog poems. Joyce Sidman’s collection is a favorite and I love that your poem “Dog Days” was published in Spider. I find myself looking for my Poetry Friday friend’s names on the poems in grandson Jack’s Hello magazines (from Highlights).

  4. Allergies keep me from being owned by a dog, but I do love them. They way they look at someone they love… it’s a drug worth living for.

  5. I love this collection of all things dog in these poems. Several I knew and loved, but I did not know Mary Oliver’s dog collection. I think I know what I want to look for!

  6. We rescued a dog in March and so much of the poems you shared I can relate to. We are going to puppy school and it seems like she’s been there before and I’m there to learn what she knows.

  7. Congrats on your poem in “Great Morning” Buffy! I enjoyed all the poems–lovely quick pace in yours–and Joyce Sidman is spot on in her poem in the last stanza to “Dog in Bed,”
    “This is how it is with love.
    Once invited,
    it steps in gently,
    circles twice,
    and takes up as much space
    as you will give it”

    Thanks Buffy!

  8. So much dog love here! Sometimes I miss having a dog, but mostly I’m glad for our lower-maintenance cat (who sometimes acts a bit like a dog)!!

  9. What a wonderful collection of canine cleverness. I love those lines: ‘why should your black silk ears feel like happiness?’ but I think I love th e joy of your won poem the best.

  10. I don’t have a dog anymore but have had the joy of many in my life, and one brief time last week keeping a ‘grand-dog’, and seeing/feeling “O, that languid, movie-star drape!” It’s a great post, Buffy. I loved Oliver’s Dog Song and your Dog Days, too, that “ball of sleep”.

    1. Grand dogs–that’s what I think I will have after Dakota. We have taken care of a close friend’s dog for a long time as they travel quite a bit. That kept me from getting another dog for several years, but somehow Dakota landed on our doorstep.

  11. Buffy, I am so glad for the timing of this post! Our community is having a Dog Day very soon, and we were talking about activities, booths, and events… now I know: a reading of DOG POEMS! Thank you for this sampling, and for giving Dakota a home. And congrats on your inclusion in GREAT MORNING. I look forward to reading. Happy Poetry Friday! xo

  12. Oh, goodness…what a great post. Each poem holds truths about my dog too. I see my dog aging and I ask for more snuggles these days. She drapes her head onto my lap and I just give her the time….it’s all I really can give someone who has been my buddy through so much for a decade. Loved this post. Thank you.

  13. What a fabulous collection of dog poems! I’ve always loved Valerie Worth’s poem with the dog with lolling limp tongue who sleeps within his “loose skin.” Joyce Sidman and Mary Oliver’s poems are both wonderful love songs to dogs (and love and life). I especially love the exuberance of Mary’s dog. It reminds me of Billy Collins writing about his dog “porpoising” through snow drifts in his poem “Snow Day”. I can just imagine children and their parents delighting in your poem with all its activity and then that final “ball of sleep”–which, by the way, circles back perfectly to your beginning with “Dog in Bed.” Great post! (says the cat lover!)

  14. Oh so beautiful. I do so love the affection and sheer joy of a dog. Miss it… Love how your poem about one dog also woks so beautifully for a pack of mischief! 🙂

      1. I was really surprised by the illustration because I had the visual in my head of one dog going through his day. But yes, it works well especially as a single illustration.

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