National Poetry Month — Poetry Friday — “A Dog’s Life” by Daniel Groves

Sometime in the last year three different things happened. Our dog (Camo) died. I read Daniel Groves’ poem "A Dog’s Life". And I got back in touch with my high school friend, Lucy, via the wonders of Facebook. Lucy and I went to high school together for two years until I was transferred to another school and I remembered her as smart and funny, and a sincere and loyal friend. There was this party we went to once . . . well, we’ll just leave that in the past.

"A Dog’s Life" is such a clever but most-heartbreaking poem. Apostrophe Cast had this to say about Groves’ poetry:

Groves’ work is superlative in his generation: it is both the most traditional, in that its roots extend the widest and deepest into our tradition, and the most relevant, with its gaze fixed on the vanities and verities of today; it is both the smartest and, at times, the silliest. Even as these verses befuddle us, a superficial examination will certify them as the wittiest, but anyone who loves poetry will recognize that, though he eschews sentimentality, Groves has written some of the saddest poems of the new century.

A Dog’s Life

By Daniel Groves

A stay of execution: one last day,
your day, old Everydog, then, as they say,
or as we say (a new trick to avoid
finalities implicit in destroyed),
you have to be put down, orput to sleep—
the very dog who, once, would fight to keep
from putting down, despite our shouts, a shoe

Read the rest here.

Lucy was a journalist in Atlanta for 10 years. She’s no stranger to words so I hoped she’d be game to join me in my Poetry Month madness. And she was! Her interaction with me over "A Dog’s Life" demonstrates some tips for all of us in how to read poetry. Here, I’ll let Lucy tell it:

"At first this poem really didn’t ring for me. I read it silently, and I stumbled a bit on the beginning. It ran on without me a little.

your day, old Everydog, then, as they say,

or as we say (a new trick to avoid

finalities implicit in destroyed),

you have to be put down, or put to sleep


I had to read it again, and then it was only when I read it the third time, out loud, that I found more of the richness. And I came away enjoying it even more. Finally, the resignation and sadness rang through, the finality and also the author’s struggle to almost create his own sort of "stay" from feeling the finality of losing his friend.

Did you catch that? "It was only when I read it the third time, OUT LOUD, that I found more of the richness." How many times has that been true with me, too, when I read poetry! And oh my, I didn’t even catch that the author’s struggle to create his own sort of "stay", trying to hold on a bit to his friend through the writing of this poem. That’s rich, isn’t it?

Lucy went on:

I think my favorite lines:

My God, tomorrow’s ride . . . Well, here we are,

right now. You stare at me and wag your tail.


It’s that feeling that he’s trying to live "in the now", as they say, as savor the last little bit of time left. Yet, he can’t escape the eventuality of death.

Ahh. Thank you so much, Lucy, for sharing your thoughts with me about "A Dog’s Life."

Lucy said she doesn’t read poetry consistently but that she owns a first edition of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s "The Harp Weaver and other Poems" that she bought at a book fair in high school. She called it "one of [her] little treasures."

Isn’t that lovely?

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7 thoughts on “National Poetry Month — Poetry Friday — “A Dog’s Life” by Daniel Groves

  1. Oh, the poem is so sad! Heartbreaking. There’s a layer of double sadness here — the narrator aches with the impending loss, and wonders if the dog knows or could know what’s to come with “tomorrow’s ride.” Of course dogs sense the emotions of people, only here, the master cannot tell his pet what or why.

  2. Today’s poem made me cry. In part because it summoned up memories of this John Updike poem, which also makes me cry. I remember finding the Updike poem in my Norton Anthology of American Literature as I was paging through in college, and crying my heart out over that poem.

    I am still loving reading your posts, even though I am now snuffly and red-eyed.

  3. This is an amazing process you are going through Kristy. I’m so happy to able to go along for the ride with you.

    I didn’t want read the poem today. Had to leave and come back and leave and come back again.

    Thank you.

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