Colin Dardis – Dogs of Humanity
ISBN: 978-1-9995986-9-3 42pp
Colin Dardis – Dogs of Humanity, explores themes of human society using animals as analogy looking at human interactions, bullying and self-identity. It’s split into two roughly equal sections, one focused on dogs, the second on other animals. In one of the first poems, “The Dog at the Table”, the narrator could be approaching a dog or a human,
“I am not moving towards you
in a way that is threatening
or foreboding. Trust me.
My steps are like my syntax,
measuring out in drops of caution,
spaced in order to give you breath.
As a girl might approach a boy
in a high street coffee shop”
Later the girl is implored to “Look up from your borderline”. The ambiguity between human/dog is designed to make readers compare treatment of dogs with treatment of humans and why the approaching a stranger needs caution. It’s encouraging readers to view a familiar scene with new sight. The human/dog connection is picked up again in “People in Headphones”,
“shaking their heads like dogs eager for treats.
This is a sweet naivety on their part,
an attempt at privacy, unsuccessful;
their movements betraying seclusion
as public annoyance mounts.”
It takes the view of the observer, presumably headphone-free, irritated at being excluded from whatever is prompting the headphone-wearers to nod their heads. It’s less successful at reasoning why people wear headphones to start with, suggesting “privacy”. Whereas most wear headphones to avoid conversations with strangers either through wariness and anxiety or because they are prioritising their own needs over providing conversation and connection to others. Some would have good reason to avoid that connection. If only there were a manual, but “Unpublished ends” suggests why there isn’t a manual for life,
“People walk about
with their dust jackets torn,
spines cracked, dog-eared
and yellowing, forgotten about
on the shelves of humanity.
Life would not reach print
by the high demands
of us human publishers,
yet it is the only manual
we have to read.”
The poems in the second section are less colloquial and more readily play with form, e.g. in “Elephant (Old Black Stars on Skies of Grey),”
Survey the sprawl, the jungle’s breadth,
your kingdom tall; her hunters lie
to capture jewels beyond your eyes,
to quell the waters of your breath.
Who could stalk your bony fruit
while capturing that dark glint,
moistened wells, ring of flint?
Such agony of man’s pursuit.
The poem uses both end-of-line and, to a lesser extent, internal rhymes to slow and control the rhythm. This draws the reader’s attention to the poem’s message that elephants may be hunted to extinction.
Any poem that uses “13 Ways of Looking at” invites comparison with Wallace Stevens’ “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. So “13 Ways of Looking at Sparrow” takes a risk,
“8. Seeing a sparrow’s shadow on April 13th is a sign of six more weeks of spring
9. Aspiring sparrows are often headhunted. Unfortunately, this is mostly always by sparrowhawks.”
Colin Dardis dodges the comparison by using a mix of apparent superstition and blurring the boundaries between human/animal to inject humour so keeps the spirit of Stevens’ poem. The last poem, “The Humane Animal”, starts
“How many are dying tonight?
How many tonight are listening
to make sure someone else is still breathing,”
The wording returns to the ambiguity between humans and animals, “someone else” could be a mother watching a child, an adult child and elderly parent or someone watching a loved one. Those doing the watching and being watched could be human or part of a herd. The poem ends,
“How many are unanswered tonight?
We all are. We all are. We all are.”
There is a very human need to be social and connect and this theme runs throughout Colin Dardis – Dogs of Humanity. The analogies and ambiguities are thought-provoking and encourage readers to look again at familiar situations and blur the boundaries between animals and humans, something our ecosystems and future depend on. Colin Dardis – Dogs of Humanity is timely and engaging.