The Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘The Dogs of Athens’ by John Short

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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.


◄ Poetry & The Great War, a series: 4 The Home Front

Festivals: The Mild Irritation Behind the Joy ►


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john short

Sun 11th Nov 2018 23:13

Hi John,

Thanks for your comment. There are dogs and dogs! Those were not the Man's best friend variety.

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John Marks

Sat 10th Nov 2018 23:05

Well done John. I remember being intimidated by packs of dogs in Thailand. Especially disconcerting given the English tendency to sentimentalise dogs. J

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Jon Stainsby

Fri 9th Nov 2018 22:15

Congratulations, John

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john short

Wed 7th Nov 2018 01:41

Thanks Taylor for your appreciative comments. Glad you liked the poem, as I also enjoyed your apple poem.

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Taylor Crowshaw

Tue 6th Nov 2018 17:31

Brilliant, Congratulations John on a well deserved poem of the week..💕

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Tue 6th Nov 2018 16:44

A very intriguing slice of life as experienced in a no nonsense package. At one time Portugal had its fair share of wandering dogs I recall.

Clear and informative piece, John. Congratulations, well deserved.


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John F Keane

Tue 6th Nov 2018 11:14

What I like about this poem is the way it confounds the usual expectations of Athens as the cradle of civilization. Instead we have buses, buskers and delinquent dogs!

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john short

Tue 6th Nov 2018 07:23

Thanks for all your comments. There used to be that catch phrase years ago about Nokia connecting people and one night about 2003 I was sitting with a Greek friend in central Athens and he remarked about the barking connecting dogs. Never thought that years later that casual comment would become the basis for a poem.

Becky, I never considered this as a poem to read aloud as it's a not very long but as I'm going to an open mic tonight in Liverpool who knows?

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Becky Who

Mon 5th Nov 2018 20:16

Very vivid and also works well read aloud. Congratulations.

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Martin Elder

Mon 5th Nov 2018 17:10

I can certainly envisage what you describe here in your poem with the sounds and the hard worn streets where these dogs roam. Congratulations on this piece.
Nice one John

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Graham Sherwood

Mon 5th Nov 2018 14:42

This is an atmospheric piece John. I think the canine network/nokia reference is very clever and the thought of fending them off with a guitar case inspired. Well worth POTW.

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john short

Mon 5th Nov 2018 14:13

Cheers Brian.

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Brian Maryon

Mon 5th Nov 2018 09:47

Congratulations John

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