A friend has told me that, before he started discussing poetry with me – by which he probably means before he started listening to me rant about it – he thought poetry was mostly about “kittens”. By which he definitely means hearts-and-flowers and Hallmark-style fluffy kittens.
There is far too much bad cat poetry out there. I don’t mean Roger McGough’s Bad, Bad Cats, which contains gems such as The Cats’ Protection League; I mean the self-indulgent, fluffy stuff that gets me ranting about poetry.
It’s said that you should never send a cat poem to a competition, as the number of bad cat poems they’ve had to endure means the judges will tend to be biased against it. Even so, this one was a runner up in a Writers’ Bureau competition years ago, so I guess it isn’t too fluffy:
Sixteen things to do
when your cat dies:
you’ll never have another animal –
after her sister’s dead, of course.
Get out the photos and remember
how tiny she was, and how bleary-eyed,
the first time you saw her
curled in the pet shop cage.
for wishing it had been
her sister – she’s the one who cries
all night and peed on your new boots.
Think how light she was
and how blurred her eyes
when you left her at the vet’s.
for not realising sooner just how ill
she was. Remember the threadbare velvet
of her forelegs where they shaved her
for the drip. Eat chocolate. Cry. Buy flowers
for the corner of your desk
where she used to sit.
Catch yourself thinking
it’s just as well her sister’s still alive
to eat up all those tins. Stop and call
to every alleycat and stray you see. Carry
dried food in your pocket and try
to feed them all.
Console yourself –
ten years isn’t bad: the street cats probably
don’t live ten months. Share
your toast and marmite with her sister.
Walk past the pet shop after work each evening.
The cat who was inspiration for Clementine has been long dead, though she didn’t die at the time I wrote the poem; the fifty quid I got in prize money for the poem went towards her vet bills. Sadly, she was una gata española, and Spanish cats only have seven lives. Sometimes, as I’ve seen this week, these can get used up very quickly.