Lorna Crozier's Five Favourites

We invited the distinguished poet Lorna Crozier to select five favourites from among the anonymous submissions (invited contributions were excluded). She writes about her selections, and the selection process, below. In the text, you'll find these pieces identified as "A Lorna Crozier Favourite." - Editors

lorna_portrait.jpgI'm the kind of person who has trouble in ice-cream parlours, choosing a favourite among the many flavours. Or picking out a pair of shoes - I become surrounded with ten, twelve pairs, spend an hour trying them on, then have to leave, come back a day later and go through the same thing again. So you can imagine how difficult it was to choose five among the many splendid animal tales in this collection. Chocolate or pecan? The boots or the flashy running shoes? What I did, finally, was to sit in my garden with my two cats. I put the manuscript aside and tried to recall what pieces of writing had already found a home inside me. I'd like to say that the cats had a vote, too, but you know that would be a lie. In the final selection, there'd have been no entries about dogs. I know all cats aren't like this, but the two who live with me have no tolerance for anything that barks and chases.

Unlike my cats, I loved the canine/feline balance and focus of this book, but it delighted me to see a poem of the equine sort, especially one that concentrates on a rarely noted characteristic of the species - its ocular peculiarities. Imagine being able to see the way a horse sees! But if we could do that, we'd give up "our own in-stereo sight," for "the flighty creature/ spies most of its world one / eye at a time." This is the kind of cut-to-the quick perception that lies at the heart of Sandra Pettman's poem, "The Half-Seen," one of my top choices. How magically she draws us into the world of horse and rider, negating the romantic and reminding the reader of the power of the half-seen which her word smithery pulls into the light.

Then there's Lisa Dordal's greyhound in "Envy." The dog stretches herself over the edge of her bed and the margin of the page "as if she were her own / grand constellation." Because of the precision of Dordal's images, I can see this dog so clearly that I could draw a portrait. It would be called "Chelsy: who refuses, now, to be small." And speaking of drawing - how charming is Anne Alden's graphic story of her dog, Cricket. Just a few deft strokes in each cartoon show Cricket's desperation, loyalty, illness and joy. This is an artist/writer whose hand and eye know the emotional body-language of dog.

If you ever need a primer about the human/feline connection, all you need to do is read "How to Become a Cat Person" by Eufemia Fantetti. The writing leaps with surprises like a tabby on catnip; each of the four paragraphs flips our expectations on their heads. I laughed out loud at this description: "You wanted a Colette to converse with and ended up with this corpulent cat, Stendahl-sized, a paunch heavy beer-gut who will pounce on you in the mornings and knock the air out of your lungs." Like the author, I am smitten.

And finally, you can't have a book about animals without stories of heartbreak. One of the best of these is "The Veterinarian's Dog" by Alison Norwich. In only six lines, she moves with the surest of touch from the clinical to the emotional. The poem ends with "The baseball-sized lump that starts just behind his ribs/ lands in my throat." Those final lines recreate the feeling of shock and sadness but they also, as is appropriate in a collection about animals and literature, remind us of the ultimate wordlessness that surrounds all of our utterances. The poems and stories about the death of our companions begin and end with the unsayable - the lump in the throat. But when we grapple with saying it, we touch one another and honour the creatures whom we continue to love long after they've left the earth.