If you’re looking for an intriguing dog-related book to pick up — especially with the warm weather rolling in making reading a fabulous park pastime — you may be interested in a lovely book of poems called Dogs of Brooklyn by Susie DeFord. Through Susie’s poetry, you’ll experience the borough of Brooklyn in a unique way that only the presence of dogs could bring to the surface. You’ll love the light-hearted way she incorporates the whimsy of canine companions juxtaposed with the distinct feel of Brooklyn streets.
Susie was kind enough to answer some questions for us about her book and her inspirations. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry in middle school. I think it helped me deal with the awkwardness of the whole thing. I know it’s hard to believe but I was not one of the “cool” kids and animals, writing, and reading pretty much helped me survive.
What most inspires you?
It’s odd I mostly wrote sappy love poems until I got out of college and moved to New York. Then it became all about city life vs. nature. Reconciling how to live in a city that is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes downright depressing and stressful. I think not having as much access to nature, I came to appreciate it more. Dogs and animals in general became my way to connect to nature in the urban environment.
How would you sum up your book?
Dogs of Brooklyn is a fresh poetic narrative about my colorful life as a dog walker/trainer in Brooklyn accompanied by vivid photographs by Dennis Riley. Dogs of Brooklyn examines the challenge and exhilaration of city life while celebrating the human-animal bond. It is a must read for city and animal lovers.
Who took the photos in your book?
My now husband Dennis Riley used to come walking with me when we were first dating and photograph the dogs. I had already begun writing the book and we thought it would be neat for readers to get to see some the dogs I was writing about.
Tell us about your own dogs.
I have two cats and one dog. There are poems about all of them in the book. My dog, Phoebe is a 3 time winner, first picked up as a stray and brought to a shelter on Long Island. Then she was adopted by a Brooklyn couple who became my clients. They soon after had a baby and Phoebe’s feisty terrier ways were not really working in their house with a newborn. Phoebe is a bit of a punk, but has a heart of gold, kinda like me. She doesn’t bite, but she sure can put on an aggressive display and show her teeth from time to time. People often don’t understand or tolerate any aggressive displays from animals, which is kind of like asking a person never to lose their temper. I mean obviously people shouldn’t go around punching people and dogs biting. But what most people don’t understand is that most dogs try to avoid actual aggression by their displays. They have sophisticated warning and calming signals they use with each other instead of just fighting all the time. Of course, there is the occasional dog here and there that is absolutely willing to bite you, but Phoebe was not one of those. She was a scared, growly girl who needed to build up her confidence and skills. I offered to take her at a certain point when I saw how much they were struggling with her. The rest is history and with some training Phoebe has become a pretty cool little character.
Who do you think your poetry speaks to most?
My hope is that folks who don’t normally read poetry but who love animals and cities will be drawn to it. Sometimes poetry can seem inaccessible, like poets are only writing for other poets and academics. I write narrative poetry that tells playful, exuberant stories with a lot of heart.
Where can people buy it?
Currently, you can order it on Amazon as a hard copy or an ebook on Kindle. You can buy it from me directly at some upcoming readings and events. Follow my blog, Dog Poet Laureate, for updates. One of the best bookstores in New York, McNally Jackson is carrying it. And a few other local book and pet stores. It is also available as an ebook in many formats on Smashwords.