Steve Tasane, Battersea Dogs Home

Steve Tasane

Steve Tasane is critically acclaimed for his writing and performing. He successfully adapted his first novel Bird of Prey (Clubman Books) into a play, and has also published a collection of poetry, Bleeding Heart (Gecko). As a performance poet, he has worked with Apples & Snakes and was a founder member of the performance poetry group, Atomic Lip. In 1997 he premiered his post-modern performance novel (SIC) at the Edinburgh Festival and has since toured nationally. He has also appeared on BBC Radio 4's Poetry Please.

Background

Set up in 1860 Battersea Dogs Home has become a national institution, housing around 700 dogs and cats. Helen Tennant from the Public Affairs Office at Battersea Dogs Home explained that many of the Home's users have anecdotes and observations which through Steve's residency they could translate into poems. Since Steve has been visiting the home a number of staff and visitors have already come forward with their own work. His placement at Battersea Dogs Home, which started in October, will explore the unique relationship between human and canine natures. During his residency Steve will run workshops, hold a benefit performance of poems by the public and established performers, exhibit poems around Battersea Dogs Home and feature poems on their website: www.dogshome.org

 


 

"How," said the smart alecs when I told them about my poetry placement at Battersea Dogs' Home, "are dogs going to write poetry? They'll keep dropping their pen." Of course, the world is divided between those that adore dogs and those that despise them. The former understand the inherent poetry within a human/canine relationship and the latter, well, if they fail to see the soul of a dog when they look into its eyes what chance have they of finding the soul of a poem? Fortunately, the Poetry Places team at the Poetry Society appreciate both poetry and dogs.

And so it was that I walked through the doors of Battersea Dogs' Home in late 1999 armed with my pen and pad to have my ears bombarded with the howling yapping voices of its 700 inhabitants. Part of my job was to translate this canine cacophany into the sweet music of verse. Part of my job was to spread the word on the dynamic service provided by the Home (it did actually rehome 6000 dogs and 3100 cats in 1999). My ultimate aim was to produce a 140th anniversary poem for the Home with a line for every year, putting together poetic images given to me by an obligingly creative public. They came in searching for a new dog, and left having produced their first line of poetry since school days.

Prior to this, Shelley was just the name of next-door's poodle. But somehow, with the aid of workshops, tape machines, unbelievable enthusiasm and energy from the Battersea staff and that potent brew of emotion and communication within us all, the dogs did speak. Their poetry did come to life. Never more so than in the case of Daisy, a cross whippet/Pokemon thingy with a Dot Cotton personality whose soap opera life story was exhaustively put into words by Caroline Green, Daisy's adoptive human Auntie and administrative worker at Battersea Dogs' Home.

The whole Poetry Placement was directed with aplomb by Sophie Allen and Eleanore Casey from the Home's public relations team, who were so accommodating to the BBC filming segments of the poetry for the third series of their popular Battersea Dogs' Home documentary. We reached an almighty peak with the Lead Vocals dog poetry performance at Battersea Arts Centre for which a host of contemporary poets wrote special dog poems especially for the night. It was, needless to say, a howling success.

Steve Tasane, August 2000

 


 

Steve Tasane
Flossie

You're the perfect terror, you're a cuddle-trap

You're the cat's whiskers, you're a whispered yap

You're a whirlwind whisking me away to Oz

You're a dancer like Muhammad Ali was

You're the Queen of Sheba, Her Mighty Highness

You're a puddle of fun in a desert of dryness

You're Chaplin's waddle, Marty Feldman's eyes

You're Cagney's mouth and you're Cagney's size

You're the last gold leaf on the Autumn trees

You're hot gossip in a swirling breeze

You're a rumble of dissent that sparks rebellion

You're the splash of colour when we switch the telly on

You're a burglar alarm that can't stop beeping

You're a zooming broom that won't stop sweeping

You're a raging rag, a hairy tornado

You're carpet crumbs on a lump of Playdo

You're a famished midgit at a three course feast

You're the Top Dog, at the very least

You're a goggle-eyed gargoyle with a baked bean heart

You're Minnie the Minx, you're Butthead, you're Bart

You're scandal in a ribcage, a riot on paws

You're a wiggling tiddler but you think you're Jaws

You're a brittle jewel on a bit of string

You're the atom at the heart of everything

You're the Mini nipping through a juggernaut jam

You're the God of Dogs, the Little I Am

You're sliced bread, plus the bits between

You're a Miniature Yorkie, the canine Queen

 


 

Steve Tasane
How Roxy Came To Battersea

Roxy ran in front of a Rover

Backflipped onto the windscreen

Like a zombie in a Cronenberg movie

Some say it was a suicide job

For she was no more than a weeping sore

On legs, when they took her in

But a bloody-minded, half-hearted

Wag flickered through her stripped, Autumnal

Tail when the rehomers called her name

She grinned her fang-filled grin and dreamt

Of chasing rabbits, or cats, or cars

And she always wolfed her food

Like it was her last supper

Where she sprang from, no one knew

 

Roxy sprawled before the fire

Licking biscuit crumbs from Jim's palm

Like a toddler giddy on handfed sweeties

Luscious whimpers oozed from her drooling jaw

For she was nothing less than a pound of puppy fat

On paws, and fresh-from-the-litter dim

But a wary, feral, ill-boding

Spark flashed in her blue oasis

Eyes when the master snapped her name

Jim wept hot, curdled tears at night

He reeked of booze and puke and fear

And she began to sniff her food

Like it was a slow poison

What possessed him, no one knew

 

Jim staggered out of The Flowers

Slipping beneath an N29

Like an old codger into a Jacuzzi

Or a puppy in a sack from a shore

For he looked more-or-less like a suckling child

In old man's clothes, and old man's skin

But his lily-livered, bitter-fingered

Hold on Roxy's leash broke in his brittle

Hands. He spat blood with her name

Roxy howled and was lost to the dark

She lived off rats and scraps and chocolate bars

And she remembered human love

Like it was enforced hunger

How she got here, no one knew

 


 

Steve Tasane
excerpts from
The Dogs Of Battersea Dogs' Home

Here's an England player about to score

Here's Oliver Twist asking for more

Here's Oliver Reed after a night on the booze

and Screaming Jay Hawkins howling the blues

...

Here's Tyson the Dobie who wants to have fun

and Grobble the Greyhound who refuses to run

Here's Caesar the Lurcher who's looking for love

and Herman the Yorkie who thinks he's the Guv

 

Here's Terry the Terrier trembling in terror

Toying with a Toyota was a terrible error

Who's laughing? Leonardo the Labrador, that's who

Cos Sidney the Shih-tzu is teaching Shiatzu

 

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