On the Subject of Cats and Poets

I have heard poets tend to like cats as if for a wordsmith, keeping a feline companion has become a glaring cliche.

I read this perplexing article, which prompted me to respond.

I do not particularly like cats, despite the fact one has made a home out of my room. It is not so much that I own the cat, but rather, we co-inhabit the same area, a fact she too is not at all fond of. She forces her way in each night and perches on the windowsill, unblinkingly watching me sleep. Whenever I wake up in the dead of night, she stares at me intently as if daring me to close my eyes again, to let my guard down. Most nights, I suspect she is plotting her revenge for times when I have locked her outside in a rain storm. I try to exclude her, to leave her in some other, empty room, but she has claimed my bed as hers, my desk as hers, my clothes as her personal, extra-comfy throne.

However “cat people” came into being is still a mystery to me. I understand why someone might love a dog, who shows owners endless, unwarranted affection. Cats, however, disdain their owners. They are lazy and as tedious as taxes. They live to spite your efforts with a critical, demon eye. There can’t be much dignity in owning a pet who, in her eyes, owns you.

But there has been talk from Petrarch to modern day spinners that poets prefer the company of cats, as if we share their prickly self-obsession, their self-preening, egotistical ways. They do not demand respect either, but they expect it. I would certainly not allow Blake’s Tyger to lounge in my windowsill nor would I tolerate any of Poe’s black cats worming their way across my path. If one crossed the road, I would speed up to kill it before its bad luck infected me. And if I were Alice, utterly loss in the fantastical dreamland of my own adolescence, I would never act so kindly to the Cheshire Cat who seems to take great delight in confusion and disappearance.

Cats are not muses, cannot properly inspire anything but mutual distrust, especially when they swat your feet with sharp claws or when you kick them sharply in the gut. So I simply do not see why writing and cats should mix. I do not keep company with Crookshanks or Fritz or even Garfield. Jerry the Mouse might as well drop anvils on all their heads as well.

There is not much left to say on the subject, and I’m quite unsure why I brought it up in the first place. There is a common phrase, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” And if you don’t know why someone would want to skin a cat, you obviously have never owned one.

PURE. EVIL.

 

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About derekberry

Derek Berry co-hosts and organizes Charleston youth-centered poetry movement The UnSpoken Word which features a variety of upcoming and established slam poets in various Charleston venues. The UnSpoken Word attempts to give voice to a variety of experiences and implement art to enact changes in coalition local activist movements, most notably the queer community. He also performs in venues and competes in slams across the US. He is a spoken word poet, a photographer's assistant, and a Political Science student at the College of Charleston. He worked as a journalist and columnist for Verge magazine for two years based out of Augusta, GA. He was the first winner of the 827's Holy City Slam. Derek recently published his first chapbook Skinny Dipping with Strangers and released his first spoken word album Perfect Nights, produced by Smohn Jith Studios. The publication of his novel Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County is also forthcoming through PRA Publishing. Derek Berry has absolutely no clue what he might do with his life, but he's going to make a damn difference.

Posted on August 5, 2012, in books, Characters, Humor, Poetry, Random, Rant, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 98 Comments.

  1. I’m a crazy cat lady, so I’m probably a bit biased here, but…my cat serves as muse in that she forces me to take breaks from my work and encourages me to go nap in sunbeams, which are particularly good for inspiration and beauty and such. And yes, she has claimed my desk as hers, my bed as hers, my laptop as hers, my books as hers, and all my pencils and pens as hers. (And don’t even think of getting them back once she’s sat on them.)

    • He…He, although I don’t like cats and prefer to go with dogs instead, I do have a friend whose house is full of cats and kittens. In his house the favorite sitting place for the cats is over his…Keyboard!!!!!!!!!!!
      And well, the cats look beautiful too…:)

  2. Interesting perspective. Great image of the cat with the quill pen and ink bottle! Check out my most recent post: “Is it Unmanly to Love Cats?”

  3. i like your perpective on this! :)
    can you check out my blog please, its new and i would really appreciate your feedback!
    Thanks and love the posts, really!

  4. ahahah the ending to this post kills me ..good stuff

  5. And cats aren’t of much use to us cartoonists either, whenever you want to sketch them, they don’t seem to want to “hold the pose” for some selfish reason. And why is it they always want to walk all over anything that’s got drying chinese ink on it? I still don’t know….

  6. Second crazy cat lady here–but I may as well tell you that there are stereotypes in cats as in everything (or everyone) else. Just as there are many cats who do correspond to all the things you don’t like about them, there are the engaging cats who always love you, no matter how many times you lock them out of the room, who don’t chew wires and cords, who amuse you at will by learning to play “fetch” with a milk bottle plastic ring for endless hours, something which the stereotypical cat might scorn as beneath them (behavior for a dog, in fact). There are the cats who, when the weird neighbors steal them (yes, I’ve had this happen) and lock them up in their attic, come anyway to a broken window to your frantic calls outside and actually climb down the roof to meet you so that you, standing unsteadily on a porch railing, can lift them by the scruff of the neck (as any good cat mother would do) and take them back to the hovel you (the two of you) call home. I love good cats. I tolerate most cats. I know (because someone told me who worked at a shelter) that the true clinical psychotic cat has peculiarly diagonally slanted pupils, and they’re the ones I avoid (but I’ve only seen one that I could identify that way for sure). A little bit of me dies sometimes because I’m living in a place now where I can’t have a cat, and I love cats. Did I mention that i love cats?

  7. No one would agree with you more than my husband. Pure evil indeed.

  8. Cats are great mind-readers, and this one knows your hearts intent. Beware. I have two ‘pure evils’ – Snitty Mitty and Sheba. Big on taking, not much on giving. And not aMUSING at all.

  9. I laughed real hard after reading this. Fantastic. I sort of like and unlike cats. I don’t know but there are some furry marshmallow cats I like and some I loathe. But your keyword at the end says it all “Pure. Evil”. A delightful read! :D Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! ;)

  10. Cats are indeed odd creatures! It reminded me of another literary link which was Murakami and cats in Kafka on the Shore, you reminded me of him when you mentioned skinning cats. Really did make me laugh, great read!

  11. I like cats, but then I am evil as well.

  12. You just have not met the right cat.

  13. Some people say that poets have cats because both cats and poets are introverts and can understand each other. For my own part, I’m not a poet, so I have no idea why my cat tried to pierce my bellybutton a few weeks back. http://pezcita.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/my-cat-tried-to-pierce-my-belly-button-no-lie/

    • Neither my cat (I use the possessive pronoun out of spite, not with a sense that ownership is the reality of our relationship) nor I are introverts. We’re both drama queens who constantly attract attention. Sometimes, she knocks over piles of books or papers just so I’ll pay attention to her. I swear, she might as well go ahead and dye her hair black and wear eyebrow piercings.

  14. I heard that holding a cat or playing with cats for 10 minuts helps in the treatment of stress.

    have u heard what Paul Newman said to David Letterman

    Where the hell are the singing cats? –

  15. Neither are cats personal favourites for me. See the link:

    https://sites.google.com/site/stuffthatrhymes/follow-me/blog/feline

    Doug Blair, waterloo, Ontario

  16. ‘Room enough to swing a cat”….I picture your place just that size, so to have to share it with a cat might have it’s disadvantages. I am a two cat owner myself….it’s a love-hate relationship. They usually are adorable though and only occassionally would I think of them otherwise. I think they own me though.

    • The cat is not even technically mine but my little brother’s as a gift for graduating middle school. I’m the only one who feeds her though because I can be bothered to. It’s not that I’d let her die, would I? Of course not. Write a blog post blasting her? Maybe.

  17. Interesting view point but I am not so sure of your “hate” for them. They got you to write this blog – did they not??
    Any animal – mankind included – is an individual onto themselves but that point aside since I do believe that you are aware of that fact, did you know that cats are God’s eyes and ears.?? MMMM, something to think about!!! do you not think??

  18. Love my cat. Have loved every cat that’s graced my home. Cats are otherworldly in that they see through you. They know what’s really going on in your heart. The cat you’re living with has been sent to you for a purpose. She/he knows what it is and is waiting for you to figure it out. I hope one day you experience the magic of allowing yourself to fall in love with a cat.

  19. Reblogged this on Petrichor and commented:
    *speechless* :)

  20. I very clever post! Althought I don’t agree, I am poet and do not see the appreciation for cats, I can see you point in some of us writers as a whole . Great post.

  21. thank you

  22. It’s Simple: I LOVE CATS ♥♥♥

  23. You are entitled to you hostile opinion, for me all animals can become an inspiration for one to write, draw or compos music for. The many cats that have shared my life over the years have always been a comfort, inspiration for me.

    No cliché here, just a 20 year old cat and three year old cats that are a joy and comfort to behold.

    I have found more quotes by poets, writers, photographers, artist that have great skill than I and most other people, that extol the virtues of the cat. Any of the cats that you mention in your post would be welcome in my home.

    “Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the Gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed…the Great Cat.” – Inscription on the Royal Tombs at Thebes

    “Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” – Mark Twain

    The smallest feline is a masterpiece. – Leonardo da Vinci

    I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul. – Jean Cocteau

    If animals could speak the dog would be a a blundering outspoken fellow, but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much. – Mark Twain

    There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats. – Albert Schweitzer

    Like a graceful vase, a cat, even when motionless, seems to flow. – George F. Will

    The phrase “domestic cat” is an oxymoron. – George F. Will

    I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through. – Jules Verne

    “If you are worthy of its affection, a cat will be your friend, but never your slave.”- Theophile Gautier

    With the qualities of cleanliness, affection, patience, dignity, and courage that cats have, how many of us, I ask you, would be capable of becoming cats? – Fernand Mery

    “Cats are a tonic, they are a laugh, they are a cuddle, they are at least pretty just about all of the time and beautiful some of the time.”- Roger Caras

    “Cats are glorious creatures ~ who must on no accounts be underestimated…
    Their eyes are fathomless depths of cat-world mysteries.
    – Lesley Anne Ivory (from Glorious Cats, The Paintings of Lesley Anne Ivory)

    “The really great thing about cats is their endless variety. One can pick a cat to fit almost any kind of decor, color, scheme, income, personality, mood. But under the fur, whatever color it may be, there still lies, essentially unchanged, one of the world’s free souls.” – Eric Gurney

    “If the pull of the outside world is strong, there is also a pull towards the human. The cat may disappear on its own errands, but sooner or later, it returns once again for a little while, to greet us with its own type of love. Independent as they are, cats find more than pleasure in our company.”- Lloyd Alexander

    “After scolding one’s cat one looks into its face and is seized by the ugly suspicion that it understood every word. And has filed it for reference.”- Charlotte Gray

    “You will always be lucky if you know how to make friends with strange cats.” – Colonial proverb

    “Beware of people who dislike cats.” – Irish proverb

    • Absolutely wonderful list of cat quotes! Thanks so much for compiling them, I really enjoyed reading (and agreeing).

      • My pleasure to post them. I can understand his rant, but it just rubbed my fur the wrong way. We rescued a cat last year that had spent most of its life in a small cage or moving back and forth from foster homes. Some abuse may have directed at Luna, for she would duck and try to run if you tried to pet her. It took a year for her to relax in our home and stop scratching at Maggie the dog, the other three cats in the house and us. Even though Luna may have been short tempered that first year, there was no way my wife or I were going to return the cat. Pet companionship is a long term gig.

    • I am apparently highly unworthy of my cat’s affections. Her scorn, however, I garner with great success.

  24. Have you fed it yet?

  25. Some cats do make you feel like your soul is being eaten, but there are sweet cats who are also just as intelligent as dogs. You could take the same subject and talk about the “evil” dogs out there… the small nervous ones that bark at the slightest sound in that high-pitched, ear-drum breaking yelp; the drool; the stench; their great love of smelling people’s crotch areas…

  26. I was always a dog person until a feral kitten agreed to share space with us. I’ve written on post on her, but I have to agree with everything you said, cats allow us to share space with them. It’s amazing how much they sucker us into providing for them, just every now and then acknowledging us. I guess playing hard-to-get has its advantages. Our indoor cat has a feral aunt who doesn’t want to come inside or even let us touch her, but clearly we’re great entertainment for her as she often joins us, at a distance, apparently amused by these weird two-legged creatures. I still like the way dogs seem to adore us and let their lives revolve around us, but the more aloof cats provide their share of companionship as well. It’s amazing to me that different species can cross the boundary.

  27. Not too fond of cats myself but i really like the cat image, Careful this one might just reply to your post.

  28. This was a great article, specially the last paragraph really made my day!!! Great work dude!!!

  29. Cats are the only “domesticated” animal I really respect, because the word “domesticated” has to be in quotes. If I were to get a pet, it would have to be a cat.

    That being said, there are no people who own cats. There are cats who own people. ;-)

    • I wouldn’t MIND being a cat. You get fed as regularly as a dog, but offer no affection in return. And we never demand cats to roll over, fetch, or sit down. Their tricks include lounging and communications with demons through Ouji boards.

  30. Victor Hugo said that God invented cats to make people get tigers at home.

  31. Each to their own, but if you fight it, you’ll miss out on experiencing the company of what is essentially a wild animal who CHOOSES to observe you and be in your presence. I was reasonably unimpressed with cats for the first 20 or so years of my life, but they changed the second 20 completely.
    Also, the main attraction of cats for me is not their uber elegance, charm, playfulness or supremely soft fur, but rather the fact that they are creatures of entirely free and independent will who choose our company but cannot be commanded to stay.

  32. that pic of the cat cracks me up also you blog is so popular how did you get started? would you mind looking at mine and leaving a comment?

    • Thanks. I started blogging a year ago and slowly built my viewership up. Being Freshly Pressed increased my views about thirty percent, which was awesome, but for the past few months, I’ve been steadily climbing, just putting my stuff out there for the world to consume.

      • how do you get your blog on the freshly pressed page?

      • They just sent me an e-mail some days ago to inform me it would be posted. I guess, just put out quality work and hope for the best so that when a wordpress editor runs across your blog, he or she likes it enough to feature it.

      • OK thank you very much have you visited my blog? if you like instrument i’m sure you will like it please leave a comment on what you think of it if you can’t visit it don’t worry

  33. Cats are pretty unpredictable and mysterious in their ways. So down the line, as years progressed people and even writers themselves strated to associate themselves with these elusive creatures. As if only elusive and veiled writers are the best. I don’t quite understand how people can tolerate a cat too, as you’ve just said. I suppose it’s just one of those not so sensible fads among writers. Poor things!

    And thank you for this “catty” post! I really enjoyed reading it :)

  34. If you take a kitten at 8 weeks it assume you are the “top cat” …. And none of these invasions of your privacy will occur. You have been adopted by an adult cat and therefore you are beneath it in the order of the universe. I have three, they all know where they should not go. They still try it on but on a word from me they will vacate the fresh laundry, the dinner table and kitchen tops with food ( that’s a tough one for them to learn ) and most importantly my bedroom. Though they will come to make sure I am alive in the morning which helps as I am deaf and sometimes miss the alarm.

    My point is you can’t train them like dogs but you can negotiate a space for them and you which is “balanced” but it needs to start from kitten hood. Remember you hold the key control …… The food. Take care enjoy your cat..

  35. I love cats, I own a cat and I totally agree with you

  36. haha! I love cats, when the pure it really soothes you ;)

  37. i have dogs…but am fascinated by cats because they are so evil hahaha

  38. See, some of us feel just the opposite: dogs will simply pander shamelessly to anyone with hands who’ll scratch them behind their ears a little bit. Cats are far more aloof and demand respect for no good reason whatsoever; all they do is eat your food, shed all over your stuff and curl up in your lap whenever there’s a book in it, and then they act like you should be grateful for it. For some reason, that insane level of presumption is incredibly endearing.

    Put it this way: you train dogs, but like an earlier commenter said, you engage in Machiavellian power plays with cats. That’s pretty awesome.

  39. crazywithtwins

    I used to be a poet. I can’t honestly say that my cat inspires me. But then my cat is a bit of a pushover! She isn’t the controlling arrogant feline that most cats are. She is a bit stupid and doesn’t even land on all fours when jumping off of things.

    She is however, very intuitive. In fact I blogged about how she communicated with my unborn twins when I was pregnant. Sorry to be a blogwhore but if you want to read it and see pics of my totally UNdominant cat, the links here http://wp.me/p2kvBJ-m

    Interestingly, her bond with the twins was not the same once they were born… She is now terrified of them!

    • The only thing more dramatic than cats are babies. They’re dangerous and viciously uncultured. When I was only two, I tried to eat a cat. He was a kitten at the time, and I stuffed him into my mouth whole. Only, I couldn’t fit her head in, and while I attempted to squeeze her in there, my mom found me. So there may be reason to be afraid.

  40. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” And if you don’t know why someone would want to skin a cat, you obviously have never owned one.” Hahahahahaha! I couldn’t agree more!

  41. She says: although I was always told you can’t train a cat, I was able to train a roommates cat once. When she would climb on the dinner table, or kitchen counter I would clap my hands. She looked me straight in the eye and seemed to instantly know that meant jump down and find another perch. And so she did.

    • That’s pretty good. I’ve heard of cats used for a lot of things, actually. A lot of times in nursing homes or hospices to keep people company. They’re much quieter than dogs, at least.

  42. WOW, where are all the dog people here? I admit I once tried to convert a cat I owned in childhood to attack on command which didnt work out after the cat bit my grandma. Anyhow, its not that dogs have inspired me more than cats have. Its just that a dog will go fetch my pen and paper where as a cat just looks at me like I am a pet rock. Thx for the fun post.

  43. I love kitties…

  44. Ok, I guessed as many up there I am biased as well. My husband and I own three cats. I’m not sure they serve as a muse so much as a thing to snuggle while I write my novel. I’d say I find it strange when someone talks about cats being evil, but my far away in-laws have an evil cat. That cat watches me when we visit as if we’re having a staring contest, and the alpha in the room will look away last. She attacks my legs when I walk by, and waits for me in the bathroom door to lung out in the night when we sleep over. I have referred to her as “Satan’s Mistress” at times.

    But then there are my cats. I’ve never owned a neurotic cat, nor an evil cat. All three of them are ridiculously sweet, they beg for my attention, and pile on top of me when I’m relaxing. They snuggle with me when I’m sleeping, and rub against my legs when I come home. (one of them even rubs my face with his own little furry face when he craves affection) Maybe I just got lucky when choosing cats? I’ll be honest and say though that I’m a poet, and I have never thought of them as muses. They do encourage me to nap though when I need to work. (little devils!)

  45. Interesting thoughts on cats – great post. I am not fond of cats as a companion as well. But seeing them on pictures is kind of refreshing and relieving. They are so cute in prints but I really couldn’t have cats for pets.

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  46. I understand that not everybody likes cats, simply because I don’t like dogs, and not liking an animal is pretty much the same as not liking a colour or not liking a particular vegetable (broccoli will never fail to induce serious nausea around me). But cats (and this applies to any other domestic animal one might own) have characters and personalities. I am the much-too-proud owner of two gorgeous Siamese and one completely crazy Balinese. And they are foremost a muse, and inspiration for my characters. Despite being from the same mother, but with different fathers and therefore a different coat, both my baby boys are entirely different and oh-so-human in their disposition.
    Yes cats are hoity-toity animals, but that certainly makes for their charm, in my eyes! They think they’re superior, they’re snotty, they turn their nose up at low-quality biscuits and will drive you up the wall, round the bend and all the way into the far depths of space until you feed them something tasty (generally a little puddle of milk or a little strip of chicken) and YES this does go on and develops into a habit, but I cannot implore how fascinating they are to me, as a writer. One of my cats; a cream-point Siamese (and for those of you who speak as much feline-lingo as I speak canine, that means a cream skinny cat with ENORMOUS ginger bat-like ears, and ginger markings) consistently challenges me with his surprising intelligence; be that climbing the ladder into the attic, opening my bedroom door, manipulating his cuteness into getting affection, his sly ways and deep soprano meow. He is such an inspiration, and he knows it full well! Whereas my other cat, clueless, confused, and suffering, in my opinion, from feline dementia, is just cute and silly, and likes to sleep on your head….
    I know I am so steadfast because I am a self-confessed cat lover, and thrive in the companionship of my fellows, but I think each person has an animal they love and understand and it is thus this understanding that brings affection and appreciation. I, for instance cannot comprehend another’s love for a dog, nor a horse, nor a snake, nor a rat. but I understand that they appreciate features the animals present in their characters and disposition that I am too ignorant to perceive for I do not appreciate them.
    Sorry about the long comment… I get caught up in a tornado of cat-gushing gobbledygook when such an opportunity presents or even hints of existing!
    Have a lovely day, and don’t worry about your cat, she seems absolutely twee and certainly appears, from my ailurophilic perspective, to be a protective cat who likes to watch over you as you sleep ;)

  47. I like both cats and dogs and have owned both, however I prefer to own a cat, as far as you can actually own a cat.
    Cats largely take care of themselves and although dogs lavish you with love, drool and attention, dogs need constant love care and attention.
    Cats can take it or leave it, whatever and most don’t drool.
    I prefer other peoples dogs as you can have all the love and drool you need and then you can hand them back.

  48. Classic post – and well put!

    I sometimes wonder whether the reason some writers may prefer cats, is that cats don’t demand your attention (generally) when you’re trying to focus on writing; they tend to have a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards you (disdain? maybe) and their purring – frankly – has been known to be kind of….soothing. Though not a cat person myself, just staring at one while it’s winding down and closing its eyes slowly for sleep, has a more tranquillizing effect on me than any stiff drink I’ve ever had.

    And then, of course, because cats can be so standoffish, it seems to be a great honour when they do seek out your company. I’ve gone from being a ‘hater’ to an ‘appreciator’ because, frankly, they single me out anyway, no matter how hard I generated ‘I-don’t-like-you’ energies.

    If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?

  49. I feel you’re being a bit mean here… Cats can inspire so much more than distain, and can be just as loving & devoted as any dog. I have been lucky to share my life with some wonderful cats, all of whom wandered in without any invitation. I think one of the most beautiful sounds in the world is a content cat’s purr…
    I think perhaps dogs give their affection without a second thought, they will love anyone! But if you are lucky enough to have a cat reach out to you, then you really needed their kindness.

  50. Spoken like a true cat-person. ;)

  51. bnwbagrahispa1981

    Reblogged this on Brooke Wright Post.

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