This next post may not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with my obsession with felines in general, and my cat Ozzie, in particular. A few days ago, I read a blog post by Sian Norris on For Books’ Sake, which listed the Top Five Cats in Literature. Cats and women go way back; the familiar stereotype of the ‘crazy cat lady’ is simply a continuation of a theme that both celebrates and fears femininity. Being both a cat-lover and a feminist myself, I like the idea that my preference for feline companionship might make me a little fiercer. So, with this in mind, I decided to make a list of my Top Five Cats in Poetry…
1. Firstly, there’s T.S. Eliot’s cats in his Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. There are many vividly rendered felines in here – almost too many to choose from. But the rhythmic stanzas of ‘The Song of the Jellicles’ make it a firm favourite for me. Jellicle cats are ‘black and white’, ‘roly-poly’, and when everyone else is sleeping they come out to dance by the light of the moon. Sounds like a lot of fun!
2. This next one can be found among the Poetry Foundation’s collection of cat poems. It’s ‘The Perfect Mother’ by Susan Griffin, and I chose it because it’s about a woman who lets her cat sleep on her head. I let the cat sleep on my head too, although come to think of it, he doesn’t give me much of a choice! But I like this poem because I haven’t yet quite worked out my reading of it. It’s disquieting in some unexpected ways. See what you make of it.
3. My favourite cat poem of all time is Angela Cleland’s ‘Cardigans’. This one makes me cry at around lines 7-8. You have been warned!
4. ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley is not really a cat poem, but I’m including it because it might as well be. Here is Ozymandias Young Blewitt:
He looks a bit pissed off here, doesn’t he? Usually, we just call him Ozzie – but occasionally he reminds us of his namesake (‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’) by doing something incredibly naughty or disruptive, and then we refer to him as ‘Your Majesty’. This is Ozzie ‘helping’ me with my research:
And this is Ozzie when it’s all got a bit too much:
I’m pretty sure that I’ll tell you all about Ozzie’s history and the story of how he came to us at some other time. So for now, back to the poetry…
5. This final one is unashamedly self-promotional. I’m sorry, but there it is. It’s one of the first poems that I had published, and it’s about a cat called Moz. Moz came to live with my family about six years ago after my sister’s friend found him in a cardboard box. This is Moz:
Look how relaxed he is (I wish I was a cat).
Below is the poem that I wrote about Moz, and it was published in the Sentinel Champions Anthology. Thanks for reading and Happy Monday!
Dad, when we said
we’d found him in a cardboard box,
down soggy streets in pouring rain,
what we meant was,
he needed a home.
Mum knew you’d say no, no more,
unless there was no choice,
unless it was you or the road –
and so, since no-one wants a weekend father,
we said we’d found him
curled up small, a ball
of wispy, near-blown fluff,
with wide sad eyes
he opened to please you.
Of course it worked.
As soon as you named him,
this wily cocksure little cat
to fill the space
left in your lap; where,
stretched supine, sunny-side up,
he purred his gratitude;
washed his paws, just enough;
and earned his stripes with easy grace.