Cats, cats*

April 4, 2021

2020 Walk Award
By Hayley Van Ness, Kindergarten

Cats, cats
I love cats
Cats are mine
I love cats
Cats are stripey.

*Copyright 2020 by Hayley Van Ness. Broadside illustrated by Christian Smith.

Pandemic Assignment

May 16, 2020

This is a guest post
by T. Clear

Tasked with the poetry prompt tomato, I sat down to a white page, and waited for something to happen. I’ve never been one to write to a prompt. All attempts have resulted in a ho-humness that’s not worth the energy it takes to type. Stabs at keeping a journal and establishing a daily writing practice have never amounted to much. A poem chooses me, instead of the other way around. I won’t say I’m happy with this arrangement, but I’ve come to accept it. Yet there I was, with an assignment, and because I had the time, decided to give it a chance.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family — Solanaceae — which includes potatoes, peppers and eggplants, as well as several poisonous species. As children, my five sisters and I feared deadly nightshade, whose dark purple blossoms with yellow starburst centers grew vigorously on the fenced edges of our property. We knew not to eat any of the crimson berries, and our idiomatic folklore taught that we would die within 15 minutes upon ingestion of any part of the plant. We wore gloves to yank it out; it exuded a bitter scent, as if even inhalation had the power to strike us down.

Nightshade seemed a good place to start work on a poem. A quick search informed me that the nightshade we so deathly feared was actually bittersweet nightshade (also known as felonweed, snakeberry, violet bloom); and death, though a possible outcome, is generally not a consequence, unless one were to consume ripe berries in great quantities, and with no ensuing intervention. Just like that, a large swath of my childhood beliefs was proven wrong. I wondered: what else did we believe would do us in, or not? And how were we so lucky to survive childhood’s real dangers? — Maple trees from which to plummet, the wrath of stinging nettles, blackberry vines whose unforgiving thorns snagged our arms in bloody zigzags. Skinned knees and elbows, a little finger sewn back on after surviving a door-slam, ice on a headbump: we persisted. Disease was not part of our vocabulary, except for the vaccination scars on our upper arms, which we compared and rated for their size and visibility.

Wait — wasn’t I trying to write a tomato poem? Yes, well….

Okay. Nightshade fit into the first line. That qualified it as a tomato poem, in a species-roundabout way. But from there, I veered to fairy-ring mushrooms, to a remedy for nettle stings, to the wild sorrel that grew abundantly in open fields, and on to the hazelnuts we cracked with our molars (which initiated long years of fracture). Death came only with the dogs killed on our busy street because they roamed freely then, as did we.

Until the summer we adopted a stray black cat and named him George. He moved in as if returning from a long journey, glad to get back to his own bed. We couldn’t have been more delighted with this affectionate, good-natured pet. And all that cuddling-up-in-bed with George resulted in a summer-long lockdown, of sorts, confined to our half-acre yard while we recovered from a nasty case of ringworm, compliments of…George. Though less than three months, it was an eternity to a six-year-old. Our dad drove away with the infected pet and we stayed on our side of the fence, nightshade and all. No explanation as to the cat’s destination, but none of us wanted to know. The protective innocence of childhood is a kind of virtue. The truth of the cat’s fate was too much for us to hear.

And suddenly there it was, on the screen: my poem, 33 roughly drafted lines. My tomato poem, veered from its triggering subject to my own childhood folklore. So lost in the stream of consciousness generated by the realization that my nightshade wasn’t deadly nightshade, I’d surrendered to the afternoon, and the poem essentially wrote itself. From a prompt.

Perhaps I succeeded because I’m home all the time now, compliments of the truly deadly danger from which we hover behind walls. Or maybe my belief that I can’t write from a prompt is faulty, like the belief in immediate death by nightshade. Maybe, it took this time to be able to stretch out, more time than I’ve had since childhood, minus that nagging sense that I was missing some essential task. And yet, when I sat there poemless with tomato looming before me, that become my essential task: a tomato, a poem, a black cat named George, and quarantine.

. . . . .

A co-founder of Floating Bridge Press, T. Clear’s poetry has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Iron Horse Literary Review, Lily Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Raven Chronicles, and The Rise Up Review. She is on the editorial board of Bracken Magazine, and facilitates the Easy Speak Seattle critique group Re/Write. Her website is

. . . . .
[Ed. note: T. Clear’s tomato poem is being submitted for publication. Please stay tuned.]

as the fur flies

December 24, 2019

Perhaps you’ve heard: the movie version of “Cats” is here. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical opened on Broadway in 1982 and is still running, so what could go wrong?

Apparently, more than you’d expect. Rotten Tomatoes, which gives the film 17% on the Tomatometer (as of this writing), says, “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.” Me-ow!

Somewhat hastily released to make scheduled screenings, the film is being reissued with some quick fixes. Here’s Louis Bayard’s commentary in The New York Times.

As the fur flies, it bears repeating that the inspiration for all this drama is a book of rhyming poetry: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot. If you don’t have a copy on your shelf and the library copy is checked out, you can read it online at Project Gutenberg.

cat call

June 22, 2016

Sugar skull catHere’s a call for poems that’s sure to offend some people and sure to elicit fine words from stories untold:

Poet Dee Dee Chapman is (in her own words) “putting together an anthology on the theme of dead cats. Why dead cats, you say? Good question! (I love cats, for the record, and wish them to be fluffy, sassy and cuddly for as long as we both shall live.) This is an experiment, because I discovered the theme to be oddly prevalent at a poetry reading, and the more I talk to writers about it, the more pieces are out there that fit. I’m excited to discover what the topic/theme/image can mean, and where it will take us beyond the initial loss of a companion.”

After an initial round of submissions, promoted through Facebook and word of mouth, Chapman has extended the deadline and says, “My first round of submissions was wonderful, strange and promising. However, I’d like to publish a full-length anthology, so I’m keeping submissions open….Side note: I’m truly sorry to all the friends I know have lost their fluffy friends recently. Please don’t take my interest in this subject to mean I’m insensitive to the loss of kitty companions. Quite the opposite.

“Continued CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS to NINE LIVES LATER: A Dead Cat Anthology. This upcoming anthology seeks to examine the image of a dead cat. We are accepting poetry, nonfiction, prose, fiction, art, music. Previously published is acceptable. We are looking for work that takes the theme beyond the loss of companions (though great work that grieves them will be considered). ***NOTE: living cat stories will not be accepted; neither will other dead animal stories. This is a specific theme, please submit only pieces within that theme. Compensation is one copy of the anthology when it is printed in October, as well as invitation to read at the anthology’s release party.”

The submission deadline is Thursday, September 1, 2016. Submit work by email to

. . . . .
Sugar Skull Cat

working poets

April 21, 2016

poets at work

Get the dog and the cat and take a National Poetry Month break, courtesy of Michael Dylan Welch.

Recognizing the similarities between poets and pets, he has created a page of altered quotes, Let Sleeping Poets Lie, in which the words pet(s), dog(s) and cat(s), as well as puppies and kittens, are replaced with poet(s).

When you’re ready for more, visit Look What the Poet Dragged In, where he’s given similar treatment to idiomatic expressions.

Watch out, Michael Dylan Welch, the poetcatcher is after you.
. . . . .

Ode to Cats*

June 25, 2012

Maria Frazey ~ Ode to Cats

2012 Merit Award
By Maria Frazey, 6th grade

Ode to Cats

Small and furry, with whiskers and claws,
Cats are the cutest of creatures. My cat is black,
With pumpkins for eyes, and purrs like the engine of a car.
Her small feet pad on the ground when she hears me call.
At night she sleeps by my feet, a warm cat on my toes.
My brother has a cat;
She is black and white, like an old photograph.
Across the street there is a kitten.
It likes to hide under the car.
It is black, like my cat,
And runs from the neighborhood children.
There are many other cats around here,
Some gray, some spotted,
Some orange, some black as night.
They meow, they purr, they hiss.
Sometimes when I am walking down the street,
I see a cat darting under a bush or sitting on a fence.
I see cats in windows of houses, or hunting for mice.
Sometimes a cat will walk up to me, begging to be petted.
I stroke its soft fur; it looks up at me and mews.
Cats are my favorite animals, because of their cute eyes,
And small paws, and curvy tails.

*Copyright 2012 by Maria Frazey. Placard design by Egress Studio.

on poetry…

May 1, 2011

“Writing poetry is like trying to catch a black cat in a dark room.” Robert Greacen

People Watching*

October 31, 2010

Placard design by Egress Studio
2006 Walk Award
By Danika Lauderdale, 10th grade

Friends, family, neighbors, strangers
All in our circle
The circle of our community
The momma with the babies
The old woman who lives with cats
36 exactly
the man who smells funny
the little boys playing baseball
the girls playing house
teachers at our school getting us through
friends to talk to when we need it most
parents to love us
to raise us
so many different faces
so many different places
I couldn’t live without my community

*Copyright 2006 by Danika Lauderdale. This poem appears in POETRY WALK: Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest – The First Five Years. Info: Book! Placard design by Egress Studio.

You can’t have it all…*

October 22, 2010

Placard design by Egress Studio
2009 Merit Award
By Stephanee Henderson, 11th grade

However, you can have the beautiful memory of watching
the bright, yellow sun come up after a long night of fun
with your best friends. You can have the imagination to
dream up adventurous stories to tell your playful nieces.
You can have the high pitched meow of your fluffy,
orange cat and the rambunctious playing of your small,
smelly pug. You can have love, though often it is
confusing and mysterious but all the while worth it in
the end. You can have cheesy Gordita Crunches, Fiesta
potatoes, and a medium Baja blast from taco bell at 1
in the morning. You can be grateful for make-up, the
way it paints your face & enhances you to your finest.
You can be grateful for weeping willows, their big,
beautiful way of life that brings a smile to your face,
and gives you a pang of sadness just for a second.
You can have baking lessons from your loving grandma
but all the while she is teaching you a deeper meaning
of life. You can be grateful for shampoo, the way it
cleans your silky hair and leaves a wonderful scent
after you wash it away. You can have sailboats,
experience the way they rock with the wind and waves.
You can be grateful for leaves, as they turn different
colors in autumn and then fly away from their homes
soon after. You can’t have it all; however you can be
grateful for what you do have.

*Copyright 2009 by Stephanee Henderson. This poem appears in POETRY WALK: Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest – The First Five Years. Info: Book! Placard design by Egress Studio.

quoting the poets

August 17, 2010

“Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat.”
Robert Graves, on writing novels to support his poetry.

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