Monday, April 28, 2014

Reads for Writers: Mary Oliver Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate

         As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

            Dogs are essential to my life. They are the best combination of company, security, and joy. Always there, wagging their tails, laying at my feet while I'm writing, watching for trouble from rogue squirrels to possible robbers, and yet ready to play, walk, run, or nap as my schedule allows, i.e., the perfect companions.

Poet Mary Oliver feels the same kinship. She celebrates her canine companions in her latest book, Dog Songs: Thirty-five Dog Songs and One Essay. As she describes them, dogs are bundles of longing, steadfast, romping, wolfish, roving, and, obedient or not, always beautiful. Every dog-owning reader will recognize the universal truths in these loving poems.

Accompanied by detailed sketches, Oliver's observations capture the delightful moments of living with dogs as they make themselves at home on couches, race along beaches, or crouch in long grass on daily walks.

Devoted to her dogs, Oliver makes sure her university teaching contracts allow them to attend her classes. (Don't we all wish our dogs were with us at work, too!)

As she describes in her poem, "The Poetry Teacher" on page 39 (paraphrased here): …"her dog with pals, and occasionally an unknown dog or two, arrive thirsty and happy to class. They drink from the bowl of water she keeps there and then fling themselves down among the students who are then inspired to write thirsty, happy poems."

Some poems are happy, others pensive and tragic. Sadly, as soon as the word dog appears in a title, readers know there will be an unhappy ending. Dogs' lives are simply too short—and yet longer lives would mean only more heartbreak for us. The overwhelming upside is the never ending joy dogs feel and share with us.

We live deeper, better lives with dogs around. We are outside every day, paying attention to sights and sounds we usually ignore, and imaging scents we cannot smell but are strong enough to beckon our dogs to walk faster and linger longer.

Dogs are alert and truly alive—a great lesson for writers everywhere!

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