Book Review – The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford
Poetry featuring cats is not unheard of, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is one famous example, though I am not sure how many folks realise this collection of light hearted rhyme formed the basis for the musical Cats. Then of course the internet is powered by pictures of cute kittens. So on the face of it, a collection of cat poems is probably a very good idea.
The Duties of a Cat is described by publishers, Pitt Street Poetry as a pamphlet, a collection of 12 poems. It’s similar in size to some poetry chapbooks I have purchased previously. But whereas most chapbooks are small collections produced cheaply to give the reader the words in the cheapest fashion, Pitt Street have managed somehow to produce a compact, high spec collection, illustrated by Michael Robson, and saddle stitched with a heavy card cover for just $10.
For lovers of cats and poetry the collection is a no brainer as a gift. But for those strange folk that don’t happen to like our feline
masters companions I shall expand a little.
Blackford can be hard to pigeonhole as a writer, she’s more than dabbled in a number of genres and forms (see her Snapshot Interview) and this facility is evident in the variety she presents in this short collection. The reader is treated to beautifully articulated observational poetry as in Soft Silk Sack and Learning how to be a Cat, to humour that will have even dog lovers generating a grin with The Duties of a Cat, to the dark in Something in the Corner which displays Blackford’s penchant for the weird and to the science fictional in Their Quantum Toy.
I tend to struggle with overwrought diction and experimental syntax and thankfully Blackford is one of those poets who tends to be be more direct. We get clearly evoked or described images and subtle rhythm. See the excerpt from Dream Hunt below:
The white Cat sleeping by the window growls.
I glance across. One pale curved paw, pressed hard
across his eyes, keeps out the daylight world.
His other paws are trembling, desperate to run.
While I am admittedly a cat lover and probably outrageously biased, I did enjoy the craft Blackford displayed and the words as much as their subject were a pleasure to read. On this work and other poetry of Blackford’s I have read, I hope we will see a larger collection in the not too distant future.
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.