The Dog Days—in Latin, diēs caniculārēs—are indeed upon us, my friends. So named because the Romans believed that the hottest period of the year was influenced by Sirius the dog star, brightest point in the constellation Canis Major, the Old Farmer’s Almanac lists them as spanning July 3 through August 11. In ancient Rome, though, they were said to last from July 24 to August 24, and I have the feeling we’re going to have to go with that interpretation this year. However unfair the derogatory term might be to man’s best friend, I can’t really argue—I always associate this time of year with the presence of an unhappy panting dog, splayed out on the kitchen linoleum in front of the floor fan, so that works just fine for me.
So in honor of the Dog Days of summer, and because Like Fire is a dog-loving blog, some select doggie links to read while splayed out on the kitchen linoleum in front of the floor fan, hopefully with something cold to drink at hand:
From the Ploughshares blog, how Writing a Form Poem is Like Walking a Dog. The simile is Galway Kinnell’s, but the reality belongs to guest blogger Catherine Carter and a 70-pound rescue dog named Grond:
Eventually we have to gyre back to where we began, and the walk has to be part of a broader life … and even fine dogs may forget that, if a seductive smear of carrion beckons. Some parts of writing are all about the moment, but at some point too we write with the mind as well as the nose. Sometimes the mind has to choose, if the poem’s ever going to be anything approaching public.
And speaking of poetry, Slate has a wonderful piece on found poetry in the American Kennel Club breed standards. While I wholly endorse mutts and rescues over the pure of breed, I’m still a sucker for a dog show, and get far more pleasure kibitzing my way through Westminster with a friend than criticizing the red carpet walks at the Academy Awards (or any part of the Academy Awards, but that’s another story). Anyone who’s watched a dog show closely, or even just seen Best in Show, knows that dog people can be a bit… out there. Or passionate, take your pick. And the AKC standards are no exception. For instance, the Afghan Hound’s entry:
The Afghan Hound is an aristocrat, his whole appearance one of dignity and aloofness with no trace of plainness or coarseness. He has a straight front, proudly carried head, eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past.
You can almost hear that oud playing. And
The ideal dachshund, we’re told, is ‘courageous to the point of rashness.’ Judges are also given this stern reminder: ‘Inasmuch as the Dachshund is a hunting dog, scars from honorable wounds shall not be considered a fault.’
May all our wounds be honorable.
In a recent post over at Stevereads, Steve Donoghue’s review of Traphes Bryant’s Dog Days at the White House sounds like just the kind of oddball political memoir that would make a good piece of summer reading. And given the administration’s antics lately, I think I’d probably rather read about some reasonable Washington residents—the dogs. Bryant was the official White House dogkeeper to five U.S. Presidents, from Eisenhower to Ford, and the book is full of gossip about both its four-legged and two-legged subjects. The relationships are the thing here, though, with some glimpses into the softer side of hard men, especially Johnson, who dearly loved his two beagles, Him and Her. According to Steve,
Bryant’s diary is filled with entries where the President called him up at the last minute to inform him that he’d be taking the dogs on some trip or other—and there are many, many sheepish requests for the kennel keeper’s permission to let Him and Her sleep in the residence overnight.
I’m not sure what’s the point of being leader of the free world if you have to ask to let your dogs sleep with you, but all right.
And for some longer-form reading, a series of dog-related essays by Jim Harrison, P.J. O’Rourke, Susan Orlean, and others, collected over at the Byliner Blog (a couple of the links are outdated—you can find Bill Vaughn’s piece here, and Elizabeth Royte’s here). Fire up that fan on high, pour a tall cold one, and make sure the good dog in your life has a nice marrow bone straight from the freezer. We’ve got another month left of the dog days—enjoy them. Or survive them, anyway.
(New Yorker cover is “Hot Dogs” by Mark Ulriksen, from the August 13, 2007 issue.)