Among the “rowdy assembly” of mutts introduced to us here are Lola the lion-taming, tightrope-walking circus dog; Dobson the beagle detective, who is actually thinking when he appears to be sleeping; Frazzlesprat, the dog who thinks he’s a cat; Dog Juan, the lothario of Camden and Islington; and Flo the philosophical foxhound – “rather than chasing after foxes, / Brain-bamboozlers and paradoxes / Occupy Flo’s mind.”
Reid is a real master craftsman, and even though his poems are pitched at younger readers, perhaps from seven or eight and up, there is plenty for grown-ups to enjoy too, from the way he plays around with new coinages (Ballybeg Rosie the greyhound is described as an “Offandawayhound”) to the way he subtly varies his rhyme schemes for effect, occasionally leaving the reader hanging on for a couple of extra beats before delivering a punchline.
If there’s one poem that seems to spring straight from Eliot’s original conversation with his chauffeur all those years ago, it’s “Jack and Jill: A Pair Of Mutts”. The poet begins by asking if the “pampered pups” who “carry off rosettes and cups” are really any better than the “scruffy mutts you and I love?” He then goes on to sing the praises of Jack, “who, thrown a ball, will bring it back / Five hundred times in an afternoon” and his companion Jill, whose “accomplishments are no fewer: / She is a champion chair-leg chewer.”
When compared with these two lovable rogues, the poet concludes, “the aristocrats / Of pedigree might as well be cats.”
Old Toffer’s Book Of Consequential Dogs, by Christopher Reid, Faber & Faber, £16.99