The Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘The Dogs of Athens’ by John Short
This week, the poem The Dogs of Athens looks back to the time John Short spent living in that city, and brings it beautifully to life. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did. Our thanks to John for his insightful and informative responses to the questions we sent him. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at his tea party!
Can you tell us a little background about how you came to write this poem?
Well I lived in Athens from 1998 until 2007 and there are a lot of stray dogs in the city who can be quite aggressive and deranged. The problem of feral dogs seems to get worse the further east you go. The travel writer Dervla Murphy once wrote about how she was afraid to cycle in Romania for fear of being attacked by packs of dogs.
Would you say your poetry has a particular style?
I don't have a particular style. I get ideas and write them down quickly in a formless block and then let the poem assume its own shape as I refine it down to the finished thing.
How has your poetry developed over the time you have been writing?
My poetry has definitely developed over the years, especially since I started to apply myself to it a bit more seriously. You have to work it until it's the best it can be. As they say - the best words in the best order. The most obvious mistake is thinking a poem's finished when in reality there's more work to be done. I used to do that a lot.
Do you attend any writing groups or workshops?
I'm a member of a writing group in Liverpool called Inklings. We're a cozy group who meet in the Black E near the Chinese Gate on a Wednesday at half past one and we have some links to a local publisher and a radio station.
If you could invite four poets (living or dead) to tea, who would they be?
I'd have to have Sylvia Plath as she was my first inspiration. Then Charles Bukowski because he was another big influence. Then the French poet Pierre Reverdy who came from Narbonne in the Languedoc where I lived for a year. The Surrealists respected him as an elder statesman and inspiration. His father was a wine-grower so he could share a glass with Bukowski and then I'd also invite Richard Gwyn the poet, translator and professor of English at Cardiff university who could mediate between them.
The Dogs of Athens
by John Short
More than a city
a cluster of cities stretch
onwards through space,
one sprawling into the next,
so many areas
I've never set foot in
and west of the electric line's
a foreign country;
you see the names of neighbourhoods
on yellow buses passing
this evening square
where, instead of Nokia,
the street dogs are connected
by a different network
and as the night descends
some distant hound pipes up
then others howl back.
They roam around
in crazy, noisy packs
these canine delinquents
hysterical and after blood,
tear pieces from clothes.
It's how my battered old guitar
became a weapon
that still bears a mark.