Tag Archives: Poetry

FIDO Brooklyn Coffee Bark April 14 & A Thousand Sparrows!

FIDO Brooklyn Coffee Bark!

There are times when I think morning off-leash hours in Prospect Park  might just be keeping my dog Phoebe and I sane living in New York City. Prospect Park is a yard and nature playground for those of us without yards. Fido Brooklyn is largely responsible for maintaining our off leash privileges in one of NYC’s most beautiful parks, which is why Susie’s Pet Care and Dogs of Brooklyn will be sponsoring their monthly Coffee Bark get together from 7-9am near the picnic house on April 14th 2012. Hope to see you there!

For more Dog Friendly hot spots in Brooklyn now that Spring is upon us please check out my Ultimate Dog Guide on Brooklyn Exposed! 

I leave you with a spring poem from Dogs of Brooklyn (Pardon the line breaks WordPress is jackin’ my formatting!)


The snow has been replaced with white petals falling

from the apple blossom trees. Hard green buds

breaking out of thawing limbs extending to the sun.

A thousand sparrows scream, hatched and hungry,

soon to be kicked out of the nest. Some of them

won’t make it, the dogs sniff out their featherless,

naked pink bodies scattered on the sidewalk to eat.

I won’t allow it, make mulched tree stumps instant

cemeteries. The kids from Little League parade down

7th Avenue, hoodlums wielding bats in their matching

yellow caps while in the distance ritual drums beat.

In Prospect Park people start shedding coats and clothes,

lounging in lumps in the big field, pale skin blinding

everyone. While the apartment buildings peer down

from above at their shaded flowers fighting to bloom.

We all try to suck in the sun like oxygen after months

of cold gray hibernating. I claw at my eyes and sneeze,

my body fighting even the seasons changing. Rain relief,

pollen drowning, the dogs and I trudge through fat drops

falling. Sally shakes and sulks while Eva stink-eyes me

for making them walk wet. We’d all rather stay cozy

in our tiny apartments instead of be slicked shower sick.

We dance a duck and dodge beneath splintered old building

awnings and stare at the sky waiting for the rain to run out.

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Filed under Brooklyn, Dogs, Poetry

A Major Award?

Fragile- that must be Italian!

I got an invitation in the mail to the Dog Writers Association of America (who knew there was such a thing?) Awards Banquet on February 12, 2012 at the Affina Manhattan Hotel. Apparently, someone nominated my poem St. Francis of 42nd Street which appeared in Dog Fancy Magazine in 2010. I’m not really sure what I’d win if anything or who I’m up against but the idea of several Dog Writers at a banquet is pretty funny. I will most definitely blog about that party–Wish me luck!

Dog Fancy 2010

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Filed under Brooklyn, Dogs, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing

Self-hatred and Self Publishing

19th century illustration of La Fontaine's Fables by Jean Grandville

I have been in the pit of despair, climbed out, and then jumped right back in. Living in Brooklyn, NY I am surrounded by successful writers and artists- some lucky ones are even making their living off their art. I have been writing stories and poems since the age of 9 or 10 and my dream has always been to publish a book. I followed this dream through undergraduate and graduate school. I rang up quite a bit of debt getting my MFA in creative writing at New School University. I thought I’d finish my novel sell it and pay off my grad school loans with the book advance. That didn’t happen. I finished a novel that was the best a twenty-something writer could do but probably wasn’t very good and needless to say didn’t get published. I also didn’t publish my first collection of poems despite publishing a few here and there in various literary magazines. I was so disgruntled I stopped writing for a few years and just played in bands screaming my head off and being angry at the world. Those bands sadly didn’t take off either.

During all of this I started to find my way in a career of dog walking and dog training. At first it was really humbling to see artists around me publishing books and having their bands succeed while I was battling the elements picking up dog doo. In 2007 I found myself a few years out of grad school with nothing to show for it except a lot of debt and bitterness. One of my awesome undergrad poetry professors David Kirby was nominated for a National Book Award around that time. He and Barbara Hamby, my favorite poet and mentor, came up to NYC for the ceremony and I had breakfast with them. I spewed all of my garbage and disappointment at them and they kindly said “Why don’t you write about being a dog walker in Brooklyn?” Thus began the my book of poems “Dogs of Brooklyn.”

I worked on it for 2-3 years carefully crafting and editing poems. I had other friends and writers look over the work, published some poems in various literary magazines, and did some readings. When the book was “finished” (are books every really finished?), I began sending it out to all the first book contests in the back of Poets and Writers Magazine and to lots of different publishers. My then boyfriend, now husband, Dennis Riley photographed the dogs and we thought about making it a photo/poetry book. For a year and a half I spent money and time trying to get other people to publish and approve of my work. I was also writing for BOMB magazine interviewing poets on their work. In combing through the pile of books they get sent for review I definitely saw that while my book wasn’t maybe the best it also wasn’t the worst. I’m constantly amazed by some of the amazing books that get published and some of the ones I cannot believe got published. I felt like while I may not be the best poet out their I certainly am not the worst. But I also came to understand that in the hyper-intellectual world literary world poems about dogs aren’t always accepted.

I realized the people who liked my work weren’t necessarily the literary world, but regular folks who loved animals and Brooklyn. While I could sit around and be bummed that The New Yorker (who’s poetry I rarely enjoy) won’t publish my work, I realized that being yet another disgruntled artist really wasn’t productive. I come from a background of publishing my own zines in high school and being in the DIY punk rock band scene who put out their own records. I decided that even if the literary scene doesn’t believe in me, I do, so I will publish my book.

I’ve been working on it the past few months with a designer and some volunteer editors. I can’t tell you the highs and lows of this experience. There are days where I’m really excited about it and days where I’m filled with so much doubt, despair, and self-hatred I find it hard to function. I’ve received some really lovely feedback from folks in the writing community and some not so nice feedback. The format I’ve decided to publish in probably won’t support photos the best so I may have to publish it without them to keep costs down, and that is disappointing. We are still figuring it out.

There are times where I question why the hell I’m even bothering doing this. I guess overall I’m doing this as a gift to myself. I’ve worked so hard on various writing/ creative projects that haven’t seen the light of day and when you spend years working on something I guess you want something tangible to show for that. Maybe its a huge mistake, maybe I’ll never have a writing career with a faculty position at some college and have the admiration of all my peers (sounds a little like high school right?) But at least I’ll know that I tried my hardest to respect the work I’ve done and time I’ve invested.

It’s funny though in talking to my friends who have “made it” and are having success with their artistic careers they still struggle too particularly with money. It seems odd to me that they have published books and still sometimes have to juggle multiple adjunct jobs etc just to pay the rent. I’ve been really lucky that I have established a career working with dogs and I’ve always been able to pay my bills for the most part and have time to write. It may not be the most prestigious job, but particularly since I started training dogs, I get to really help people and their animals. I guess in this “race” I’m the tortoise and not the hare. I’m slowly getting okay with that.


Filed under Art, Brooklyn, Dogs, Poetry, Self publishing, Writing

In memory of Tom “Bones” Miquel

I wrote this poem about the Slope last year. My friend Tom “Bones” Miquel recently passed, so sadly I wanted to put this poem (please excuse word press screwing up my format) up on the ol’ blog in his honor. He left us way too soon.


“I’m not much for gossiping, but I do like to talk shit.”

The Slope Opera’s in full swing so-and-so is coming

out in full lesbian fashion. So-and-so’s shift missing

got them expelled from the Food Co-op. No more

fresh greens, crowded shelves, long communist lines.

Walking along 7th Avenue, Bones, a bearded tough

motorcycle guy, drives by in his little pink Barbie

car while stroller moms saunter and stare hogging up

the sidewalk. Dogs stop and sniff Marty’s restaurant,

La Taqueria, with its psychedelic murals and burly

bean burritos, but pass on by pulling to Prospect Park

to bound around off leash and swim at dog beach

(which is really just the edge of a lake). I walk on

to browse the crowded shelves of the Community

Bookstore. I step over the two old dogs sleeping

by the new release hardcovers and head to the poetry

section. Run my fingers along the colorful spines,

huff the dust and ink and all the musty spent sweat

of the writers who’ve gone before me. I search to see

who I’ll be sandwiched between when it’s my time

up on that wall with all the language queens and kings.

Beside me to one side perhaps orphan Corso bopping

with the Beats, The Bridge of Hart Crane, and old ee

in all his eccentric glory. To the right this tenderness

comes from Mark Doty, Rita Dove’s smart line struts

on by Denise Duhamel’s sassy sestinas. All of us up

there together getting dusty on the shelf pressed tight

together our slick, sharp corners softening with time.

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Filed under Poetry, Spirituality, Writing

Montezuma’s Revenge and other travel debacles

Whew! Its been a while since my last blog post and while I know no one is sitting around waiting for my words with bated breath I still want to recognize the lapse. So what’s been up since December? LOTS of travel.

At the end of December I headed down to Floriduh to visit my family for Christmas.

My nephews Terry, Dominick, and Harrison trapped in a snow globe!

It was 80 degrees and I was walking around in T-Shirts. It made me question my sanity walking dogs outside in Brooklyn in the winter. One day I went running and actually got bit by a mosquito- crazy Floridian jungle bugs. It was fun to see my parents, and my brother’s family. My nephews are super cute and I dig being crazy aunt Susie from New York. I’m pretty sure the aunt role is as far as I want to go kid-wise. I like kids but I like writing and traveling more. The only maternal instincts I seem to have is manifested in my desire to someday have my own dog again- When I’m married and more settled and Itty Pity has gone. She’s not a big fan of the dogs and expresses this through peeing on things any time I bring a dog into my apartment. I can’t have nice things!

When I got back to New York I headed out to Merida, Mexico for US Poets in Mexico. We went last year and had a good time. Its a great conference because its still small and intimate and because of that you actually get to know the participants and faculty pretty well over the course of a week. Last year I worked with Monica de la Torre, Jack Collum, Forrest Gander, CD Wright, and Bob Holman.

Me making friends with Mexican dogs

One of my favorite thing this year was swimming in the beautiful cenotes. We of course went back to La Casa de Frida to eat Chile en Nogada a seasonal dish which is a poblano pepper stuffed with meat and fruit and covered in a creamy walnut sauce. Its amazing, yet impossible to find, even in NYC.

Chile en Nogada photo by Dennis Riley

Chile en Nogada pic by Dennis Riley

We also enjoyed going back to La Flor de Santiago on of Merida’s oldest cafes for Sopa de Lima and good coffee.

This year despite all the poets, I only got and opportunity to work with Mark Doty and Cassandra Tribe. Part of that was due to workshop structure the other part was because I came down a serious bout of Montezuma’s revenge and/or food poisoning from a fish dish spent a night with my head etc. in the toilet. The whole next day I spent in bed. It was rough! Prior to that I thought it would be a good idea to go running on the crumbling streets of Mexico and of course I twisted my ankle and totally bit it, skinned my knee, the whole nine. This led Dennis and I to recount all of my travel debacles. On our first trip together I got a UTI in Berlin- oddly enough going to the doctor there was a lot easier and cheaper- Thank you socialized medicine! Then right before we went to Rome last year I was walking down the street and got hit by a car and got a concussion. Which cause me to spend most of our Roman Holiday in a daze.

Car accident face 3-2009

The last time we went to Mexico I almost made it out without any ailments but I got motion sick on the small plane out Merida to Mexico City. When we hit Mexico city the nausea was overwhelming, I asked Dennis to ask one of the stores for a plastic bag and when he came back to look for me I already had my head in a trash can. Its a wonder he puts with me at all. In the first year of our relationship he spent way too much time in the hospital with me when my appendix burst then 4 months later the ER again for the car accident. But he insists I’m a good travel companion and jokes that maybe we should just plan for one sick day for me per trip. I don’t like this idea, I don’t want to encourage this trend to continue. I’m actually working on a poem about throwing up in some of the most fascinating places in the world. Its a wonder I even leave the house.

So January 9th we returned to Brooklyn and my dog walking assistant, Matt, moved to Seattle. I was sad to see him go but understand the need to get out there and explore the world. I hired a new assistant Nathan who is working out great. He’s very reliable and good with the dogs. Business has been really good but with more comes more responsibility. I went to see a lawyer to see about converting my business over to an LLC. I also want to have independent contractor contracts with my employees and contracts with my clients stating that they are responsible for their dog’s behavior. Especially after one of my employees got bit last month. She’s okay, but liability is a definite concern in this business where animals can be unpredictable. I do all I can to put the safety of the dogs and employees first but occasionally stuff happens. I’m hoping that contracts will help business go more smoothly and  keep me from getting an ulcer worrying about everything.

I’m finally trying to get back on the beam poetically. I have been in a serious writing lapse but it happens. Inspiration is irrelevant. I know that, all I have to do is make time to show up to the page and eventually something will come out. I’m starting to post interviews on BOMBlog again and here at Dog Poet Laureate. Hopefully, this will get the brainwaves back on track. Thank you for your readership and support!

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Filed under Poetry, Travel

Poetry News, Thanksgiving, and Dog Obedience

Rainbow over Brooklyn

A lot has been going on in the poetry and dog land I live in! First the poetry news:

I had 5 Brooklyn poems published in Poets & Artisits December 2009.

I had a dog walking poem published in Work Zine November 2009.

I was interviewed by Galley Cat’s Jason Boog about The Dogs of Brooklyn.

Sonya Chung quoted me in an article on The Millions about dogs and writing.

I had my poem (and Dennis’s photo) Powerboat Pit Bull published in this wrestling poetry anthology on Clattery MacHenry. Scroll down to “P” its in alphabetical order.

I interviewed rock and roll prose poet Ray Gonzalez, bilingual poet Kristin Naca, and feminist poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker for BOMB and post punk poetry icon Eileen Myles for The Rumpus.

Whew! Thanksgiving was a welcome few days off though I was dog sitting for my pal Jack. I was so grateful for all the small victories this year–publishing and dog training etc. That morning we took Jack to off leash hours at Prospect Park. I love Prospect Park, Fredrick Law Olmsted the landscape designer was such a genius I named my plant after him, then proceeded to kill it with a slow death like every other plant I’ve had. In my life there’s a long tradition of naming things after famous people and characters- My first dog, the Golden Retriever Cindy Lauper, my hamster Murphy after Murphy Brown (I was eight!), my cat Cobain. Anyways, I digress, If you haven’t been to Brooklyn and seen it, its as beautiful as Central Park and far less crowded!

So back to Prospect Park Thanksgiving- we ran into Pooh Bear, the dog that wouldn’t go outside when I first met him. He had lots of fears of the outdoors when I started working with him and would pitch an 80 lb. fit whenever his owner tried to walk him. I switched Pooh to an over-the-hose-nose gentle leader so he’d be easier to control (sometimes the right lead makes all the difference!), a backpack with water bottles as weights to tire him out and give him a job, and ignored his drama. A few months later he’s trotting along happily in Prospect Park with his owner! It feels good to be able to help people with what I’ve learned in my year dog walking.

I used to think because I didn’t have a title or go to some office that I was a failure and couldn’t keep a “real” job. Now I see I wasn’t meant for that world. I am a humble servant to the animals and that works for me. I’m reliable and trustworthy and people trust me with their pets, I may not be some fancy professor or lawyer but I’m of service and I make enough to live and work shorter hours so I can write, that’s all I need. I also see some people can work for others in offices, I am not one of those people, I’m someone who needs to have their own business and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just had no model for this kind of life growing up in Florida. That’s one of the reasons I love New York, you can have a small business and survive, its harder in other areas of corporate, chain-store America to do that.

Back to Thanksgiving- I was just grateful I could eat this year. Last year about a week before Thanksgiving my appendix exploded and I was in the hospital getting emergency surgery. The surgery wasn’t so bad it was the recovery. Since my appendix burst there were toxins all over my insides so they had me on all kinds of antibiotics and I have never been so sick and scared in all my life. It was like a horror movie in the hospital with people screaming down the hall. I kept throwing up green and having diarrhea and I couldn’t walk. I think the immobility and weakness may have been the scariest part of all. I couldn’t eat anything all I could do was suck on ice chips. Thankfully my friends and family showed up-Dennis stayed at the hospital practically all day everyday with me. I got out the day before Thanksgiving but still could barely eat or walk for about a month. Thank god for my friends, employees, and understanding clients- running a business from a hospital bed is no fun but everyone was really great.

I think a lot about gratitude and service when it comes to dogs and writing. I don’t think I felt really a part of the writing world until I started doing service for it by writing a column for BOMB. I don’t get paid for it but the writers I interview are so grateful to have someone read, understand, and ask them intelligent questions about their work and I feel like I learn a lot from doing it. Also I’m publishing and making connections regardless of whether my own poetry is being published. Its easy to feel resentful when other people’s work is getting published and yours isn’t but somehow writing this column has made me feel a lot less disenfranchised and more a part of the poetry community. So my advice to anyone who’s struggling is to find someway to be of service, it works for me every time.

Gracie photo by Dennis Riley

I also just wanted to write a little about dog obedience since I’ve been doing a lot of training with insecure dogs lately. I have Oban,  french bulldog who is aggressive to any visitors, and Claudia who has a lot of fear of the outdoors. When one brings home a new dog or there’s a major change in environment- a move or a baby being born- this can bring out nervousness and sometimes even aggression in an insecure dog. The biggest problem with these dogs is they are not natural pack leaders and they don’t feel secure in their owners pack leader status. Dogs have different dispositions just like people, some are shy, some are bold, some are just mellow. It never fails though that if we step up to the plate and are strong, dominant pack leaders the nervous guys stop being so nervous, they’re nervous because they feel they have to step into the pack leader role if we aren’t it because in a dogs world there are only two positions- leader and follower. Feeling sorry for a nervous dog doesn’t help them. In the wild animals don’t pity each other, a pack leader cuts of any behavior they don’t like and that’s the end of it. Dogs want to please us, they don’t want to act out. So I correct behavior I don’t like with a tug on the leash or a sharp “chhh” sound and then we move on. I praise only behavior I like with affection. We have to give affection at the right time not all the time. Dogs need jobs just like we do or else they get bored. So tricks, walks, etc stimulate their brains and make them happier than just sitting around the house getting petted all day. The migrate (walk) for their food all day then eat and play. That’s the natural order for them.

For Oban the aggressive dog I recommended they switch his leash and leave it on in the house giving it a tug anytime he did something they didn’t like, this snaps the dog out of the bad mindset the same way a dog pack leader would nip a dog on the neck if they misbehave. Simple subtle, drama free correction is all they need. I use the “chhh” sound because dogs are non-verbal, all energy, and I can’t be all emotional about a sound the way I can about yelling NO. That only makes an excited dog more excited. Its the energy behind the NO or the “chhh” sound that they respond to. Oban is improving and his owners are more empowered with how to correct him.

With Claudia, I switched her to a gentle leader and she responds better to it. A dog’s neck is really muscular so gentle leaders or leashes worn high up on the neck work better for getting their attention. I also recommended that they stay cool as cucumbers when she gets nervous on the street. When I walked her I noticed she kept looking up at me to gage my reaction of loud trucks etc. The more I ignored them the more she felt safe simple as that. I didn’t respond to her freak outs only her calm states with praise. The thing we give more energy too will always be the thing that grows so we only want to give energy to positive things unless we want the negative to grow.

Then we have the one year olds- Ozzie, Roxy, Jasper, Gracie, Leo, Murray. They’re in there rebellious teenage phase where they test us with spazz outs and occasional bad behavior. We wonder what happened to our sweet pup. This will pass but we have to be consistent in the training we’ve done so far and not freak out. Consistency is the key in writing and dog behavior. If we just keep at it with consistence eventually we’ll get what we want cause nature abhors a vacuum. With the insecure guys we don’t get to space out or talk on our cell phones when walking them. They need us to be present with them which is really the point of having a dog to spend time with them and share our worlds. This has taught me how to be more present in my whole life and see the little things as opposed to the big things I have no control over. Sometimes the dogs we get aren’t the ones we want we, they’re the ones we need. They help us work on our own issues of nervousness, stress, etc. because they pick up our energy like sponges and the more freaked out we are the more freaked out they will be. So when we work on being a calm, strong pack leader it not only helps them, it helps us. This is the beauty of having a relationship with your dog, don’t miss out on it because you’re too busy worrying about other things. Those things will work themselves out if you focus just on what’s in front of you.

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Filed under Dogs, Interviews, Poetry, Training, Writing

Halloween, The Dogs Reading, and Red Hook

Happy Halloween 2009!

Sally Shark!

The Dogs of Brooklyn reading 11/6 was a success! Thanks to all who came out and supported us. Melissa Febos read a great piece about Red Dog’s fear aggression. I read Brooklyn and dog poems, and Vijay Seshadri read his story “Brooklyn Wildlife” from the nonfiction collection Brooklyn Was Mine. We passed a donation box for the Brooklyn no-kill shelter BARC. Dennis and I decided to match whatever contributions we received so we wound up raising about $200! If you weren’t able to make it the art will be up at Ozzie’s 7th Ave and Lincoln Place, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY the whole month of November stop by and check it out. Here are some pictures from the reading:

Melissa Febos photo by Dennis Riley

Susie DeFord photo by Dennis Riley

Vijay Seshadri photo by Dennis Riley

Later that weekend Dennis and I walked to Red Hook, Brooklyn where I really haven’t spent much time. It’s amazing over there. Old warehouses, lots of small art studios and galleries, and Steve’s Key Lime Pie yum! I saw one of my old students Maia working at her uncle’s delicious restaurant Kevin’s. But what strikes me the most in Red Hook is the quiet waterfront. Because there isn’t much subway service there it remains a bit more empty than other parts of the city, which I liked a lot! You could hear the seagulls and the water lapping at the rocky beach, it was like being in New York 100 years ago.

Red Hook Waterfront photo by Dennis Riley

Of course then we passed Fairway and Ikea. I made the mistake of going in Ikea. They set it up like a maze-trap so you can’t find your way out–the horror! We finally found our way out after I almost took out a mom and stroller, then walked through the soccer fields over to Carroll Gardens and ate at La Petit Cafe. It didn’t look like much from the outside but inside it’s beautifully designed with rocks, trees, fountains, and chandeliers. I love these epic walks we take through Brooklyn. I’ve lived here for 10 years and I’m still always discovering something new.

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Filed under Dogs, Food, Poetry, Readings