FALL 2011




Solidus Online

Cleopatra Mathis


Off the leash, the dog is headed down the beach,
away from waterís boring lap, disappeared in the grasslandsí
undulating where creatures prowl or hide.
Itís nearing spring: everythingís a predator.
Iím thinking lost: not now, off the path
and crossing into what I never trespass, the ever-collapsing
scrub oak, split trunks, the layers
to create passages, holes underground
for anything out here that needs cover, and doesnít it all?

Sheís gone, ears closed, rapt with smell,
all her fifteen pounds frantic to dig. Iím go this way and that,
screaming her foolish human name, not a prayer sheís dumb enough
to miss the cracked openings, hardly the size of a dogís head,
the telling signs of scat just outside.
As for me, Iíve been willed away, filed under ever-faithful
boring kibble, when thereís this.
Foxes, coyotes, theyíll eat anything
and whatís in those dens now but pups to feed?

Iím locked in, nowhere reason can take meó
feisty as she is, I still regard her gyrating tail as in a cartoon drawing.
Iíve left behind her ancient breeding and so I startle when I hear
at some distance a muffled barking. Buried, I realize,
in the ground. The dog is barking underground,
resolved, insistentóI follow that muted trail of sound
to the mouth of something, and she comes
yapping out, caked with dirt, panting,
quizzical at my panic, and in her dark eyes
trained on me, everything is readable:
what now, what now?


Interview with Shannen Hartman

SH. What inspired you to write Book of Dog?

CM. I was going through a divorce, and found myself taking a great deal of comfort in my two dogs, a young 15 lb Jack Russell Terrier and an old half Samoyed-Husky mutt, about 80 lbs. I keep notes in a writing journal and the two subjects just kept coming together because they were the main focus of my life at that time.

SH. Do you have pets that gave you ideas for your poems in Book of Dog?

CM. If you take care of animals, they are a huge part of your daily life and routine. They did things in response to my mood and what I was feeling that reflected my situation at the time. I also found that their activities and actions were ways I could describe how I felt.

SH. When did you first realize that you wanted to become a poet?

CM. When I was a high school English teacher for 6 years in my early 20ís . I taught contemporary poetry and fell in love with it as something I wanted to do myself. Then I went to graduate school to get an MFA in poetry at Columbia.

SH. What is the process of getting a book published?

CM. That question varies from person to person. I was lucky in that my mentor, Stanley Kunitz, gave my grad school thesis to a good publisher to read. He liked it and published my first five books. But most people now have to send out their work to first book contests and open submission periods, and it can take a long time for the book to be taken by a publisher. Publishing lots of poems individually in journals and magazines first is a good idea, so the young poet has some name recognition before he or she starts sending out a manuscript.

SH. Who is your favorite poet?

CM. I have lots of favorite poems, but no favorite poet! There are too many good poems!

SH. When you sit down and write, what is your process?

CM. I tend to write a first draft very fast, trying not to censor myself as to subject or where the subject takes me. Then I rewrite it, trying to figure out where it is the poem wants to go; what creates its strongest aspect, strongest direction. Then follow that through more drafts. When I feel I have a decent working draft that also is interesting, unique, and puzzling, I will type it on the computer and work on it from printed drafts until it is finished. This can take years, or it can take a short time. Sometimes a poem never gets finished, just abandoned.

SH. I am an aspiring poet; what are your thoughts and advice?

CM. Read as much as you can, especially the older poets, in and out of the canon as far back as you can go. Donít just depend on contemporary poets to teach you! Or your peers, who are struggling just as you are! Give yourself plenty of time to study the crafting of poems and be patient with your own. Donít try to publish right away; spend that time and energy working. Find a community of writers to talk about literature and to show your poems to. Just donít give up, even when no one is encouraging you!


Cleopatra Mathis A long-time resident of the north country, Cleopatra still considers herself primarily a southern poet, with deep roots in that landscape. The emphasis on the natural world that has always informed her work comes from her childhood in Louisiana. Since 1982, Cleopatra has taught at Dartmouth College, where she founded the creative writing program . She is the Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing.