Friday, April 3, 2015

Barley is the New Poetry

It's National Poetry Month, which is always a bittersweet time of the year for me. I love poetry (hence the whole pilgrimage to Massachusetts with Barley last year). I get giddy when I see new poems by Billy Collins or Ted Kooser. I geek out when I get to talk about Emily Dickinson in class. Once upon a time, I used to love writing poetry, too. I would see these little things--my clothes tumbling in the dryer at the laundromat, for example--and all the sudden I would see the world in a whole new way. Then I'd process that experience in a poem.

I still have those experiences--a squirrel sitting on a tombstone, trash appearing from beneath the melting snow--but I haven't written a poem in years. I can count the number of poems I've written since January 3, 2011 on one hand. I've written down a lot of lines to poems, but a few lines is as far as I ever get.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the decline in my poetry started when I adopted Barley. Poetry hurts. Not in the bad way. I imagine it's like the hurt my sister recalls when she thinks about how her quads felt after her first half marathon. Poetry is the kind of hurt that happens when you've given something everything you have.

Barley is the same way. Living with a reactive dog takes everything I have. Every last bit of energy and emotion I have goes to managing Barley. While I love our walks and they can be great stress relief from work, they aren't necessarily relaxing either. I have to be hyperaware of our surroundings so that I can see distractions and triggers before Barley does and help her work through those challenges. I have to keep my anxiety, fear, excitement in check to keep Barley calm.

Last night, I had the pleasure of hearing former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove read some of her poetry. She started the reading by paraphrasing Rilke and saying anything you love doing well is hard, but you love doing it, so it doesn't feel like work.

I kind of want Rita Dove to be my life coach.

That used to be how poetry was for me. It was hard. It hurt. But I loved it. Now that's how Barley is. Living with her is hard. It's exhausting. Sometimes, it really hurts. But it never feels like work because I love Barley and I love training with her.

Who wouldn't love living with this smile?

I haven't figured out how to have both Barley and poetry in my life, though. They both require so much of me and I don't know if there's enough of me for both. But I do know that since adopting Barley I've had so many minute yet life-changing experiences that I haven't fully processed. I'm not the same person I was 4 years ago, but I do know that I still need poetry in my life. 

Otherwise, how do I process things like Barley not being able to be near most other dogs, but not batting an eye when a deer starts to approach her? Or the way that the shadows of trees sprawl across the ice on a pond? Or having my parents move 13 hours away after I relocated to be near them? Or walking through a Korean War exhibit with my grandpa and hearing about his experiences in the war?

We had another visit with our deer friend this week. This week it ran out of the thicket to see us.

This has been a rough week for Barley and me. Sunday night Barley ate two bags of jerky treats--including parts of the bag--while I was in the shower (she is back to being crated for moments like that now) and she threw up 9 times and I cleaned my carpets until 2 a.m., so Monday was a rest day. We also had some drama in agility class that I'm still processing--everything is fine, but it's added to my exhaustion--so we've been a little off our groove this week, but still managed to get 26.08 miles this week. I'm adding a new goal for us to achieve by the end of the year--somehow I need to find a way to make room for Barley and for poetry because if I don't keep myself mentally fit, I won't be able to keep Barley fit.

Hope everyone is having a happy FitDog Friday and a wonderful National Poetry Month!


22 comments:

  1. Hi Barley and Beth, I think this is my first time visiting. I've had challenges with reactive dogs too. Right now, we're in a good place with my reactive German shepherd Leo, where we've found neighborhoods and times of day when we can walk him with few incidents. We've also had success with counter-conditioning with string cheese (see my blog today for a video!), but I'm worried that with the weather getting nicer and longer days that it will be harder to avoid all the bicycles and joggers and other dogs that freak him out. He's a work in progress, but like you, I love him so much that it's worth it.

    I'm sorry that working with Barley has taken away from your poetry. I hope you find a way to work it back into your life. I get a lot of my writing inspiration on my walks... but that's only when I'm not dodging Leo's triggers!

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    1. We've had a lot of success with Barley's triggers, too--we used to not be able to make it by a house with a dog barking inside without a billion treats, but now there are days when we can walk a full mile before she needs more reinforcement than just a "yes! good girl!' when she looks at me. I still have to stay vigilant all the time, though, so I can distract her with a "what's that?" before she starts to react. She's definitely worth the work, though!

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  2. Interesting post.

    sumskersandearlskers13.blogspot.com

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  3. We aren't poets, but love writing and most of our inspiration comes from mom and us dogs being together and doing things. Although she has to concentrate on us all the time while we walk or run, she gets ideas and does the writing in her head, comes home and jots it all down. Maybe Barley could be your inspiration and you could learn to write in your head? Just a thought, it may not work for everyone, but it works for us.

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    1. Barley and I find lots of inspiration on our walks and the ideas usually bounce around in my head for a while, but turning those ideas into a poem, for me, is along process. Usually I go through 2 or 3 drafts just getting down all of the ideas. Then it's another 3-4 or four handwritten drafts playing around with the language and line breaks. Then I type a draft and start the process all over on the computer. It's a process that usually takes me months to get one polished poem.

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  4. Sounds like a tough week - glad you are able to find enjoyment in the poetry.I like Emma's idea of using Barley for your inspiration.

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    1. Barley is definitely inspiring! We see lots of interesting things when we're out on our walks, so now I just need to figure out how to turn that inspiration into poems again.

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  5. I guess you'll just have to write about the trials and tribulations of having Barley! You should read "Dog Songs," if you haven't already.

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    1. "Dog Songs" was a collection I pre-ordered and read the day it arrived! I think I need to read it again, though. I loved the illustrations and there were several poems that I adored, but there were also some that I sort of felt like I had to know the dogs she was writing about to really connect to the poem, so I need to revisit it and see if I was just in a mood when I read those :)

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  6. Good for you for taking a difficult week and turning it into a goal. I hope some day you will share some of the poetry. :)

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    1. It's been a LONG time since I wrote a poem I was confident in, but until I get to that point again, one of poems from the pre-Barley days, "Know Your Neighbors," can be found in this electronic version of the journal it was published in (on page 12): http://versewisconsin.org/backprint/vw105Mar2011.pdf

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  7. Sounds like you need poetry in your life to keep yourself sane & balanced ~ I bet you some of that balanced energy would benefit Barley as well! Have you thought about reciting some of your favorite poems out loud while walking Barley? It might relax you more on your walk, and in turn calm Barley down?

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    1. I love that idea! Unfortunately I've never been good at memorizing poems--probably because I tend to gravitate towards the ones that don't rhyme, but I do read poetry to my kitty a lot when we're lounging together and he purrs and falls asleep (and Barley usually goes to find something more exciting to do!) :)

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  8. I can tell you still have the poet in you...parts of this post were poetic in a way. I'm learning what life with a reactive dog is like since Luke came along...it can be challenging. Just when I think I have him figured out, he does something different and I have to figure out how to deal with the new thing. It can be frustrating and rewarding all at the same time.
    I'm sorry you had such a rough week, and I hope maybe you can find a way to fit poetry back in, it sounds like it could be a great coping mechanism for you.
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. Thank you! I'm hoping I can find a way to fit it back into life, too. For a long time, it was my way of making sense of the world and Barley's like Luke--every time I think I've got that puzzle solved she moves onto something new and weird to keep me on my toes :)

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  9. So glad you had fun at the reading! Barley has definitely added a lot to your life and I don't blame you for not having much left to give to other aspects of your life. I think when you're ready to write though you will and it will all come back like it used to.

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    1. Thanks, Sis! She's definitely been an adventure for all of us :)

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  10. Owned By A Husky has nominated you for our regular Share It Sunday guest post feature. You don't have to do anything just email us a link to the post you would like us to host and we will do the rest. Also you get to nominate the next guest. Just send us a link to their blog. We are at mollyDOTthewallyATbtinternetDOTcom and our site is http://mollythewally.blogspot.co.uk.
    Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

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    1. Thank you! I just sent you an email!

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  11. Wow, your weekly mileage is so impressive! I wish we had long stretches of walkable path or trail nearby - unfortunately the system I'm connected with has too many cyclists and other pedestrians for Ruby.

    I was so intrigued by this post because, I, too, am a semi-retired poet (ha!). I have been published in several journals and an anthology of horse poetry. I subscribe to several 'Poem of the Day' feeds which fills my reading appetite, but I don't write very much. I have a somewhat secret poetry blog that I post to occasionally. I did send off a submission recently, and always have the best intentions of purchasing some word processing software (considering Scriveners) and spending one afternoon a week at some charming coffee shop. Once the weather is nice, my non-reactive dog could even go with me...

    How wonderful that you got to hear Rita Dove read. A couple years ago, I took a poetry workshop and was able to hear Mark Doty read - that really jump-started my creativity for a while. I hope you are able to find the space and time for your own work to come back as well!

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    1. We are very lucky to have wonderful parks (that very few other people frequent). Our trail at the lake usually gets a little crowded during the summer when people are renting cottages on the lake, but we know that park so well that we can "off road it" when we get to the busier stretches and still get in a good walk.

      I love connecting with other people who love poetry! Earlier this year, I sent off a few submissions of things that I knew weren't really ready, but I needed to take that step and got the joy of seeing those rejection letters again. When Barley and I were exploring the rhododendron garden at our favorite park recently, I kept thinking how nice it would be to end our walk one one of the benches and write some poetry once all of the flowers are blooming again. Maybe I'll actually follow through on that . . .

      If you ever have a chance to hear Rita Dove, I highly recommend it--I left just wanting her to adopt me or be my life coach or something. Last year, I got to hear Ted Kooser (who is my poetry soulmate) and the year before that was Billy Collins (who I was also ready to give adoption papers!), so I'm impatiently waiting to see who they have come for the Poet Laureate Reading Series next April!

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