Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jehanne Dubrow & Argos

Who is in the photo at right?

That’s me, Jehanne Dubrow (poet, essayist, Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, and Assistant Professor of creative writing at Washington College). My most recent collections of poetry is Red Army Red, published in autumn 2012 by Northwestern University Press. And, that polar-bear puppy on the right is Argos. He’s a six-year-old Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

On days when I don’t have meetings or student conferences, I’ll sometimes bring Argos with me to my office on the second floor of the Rose O’Neill Literary House. I have a “puppy gate” that prevents him from wandering, a stuffed purple octopus, and a good supply of treats. Argos likes to lie under my desk and curl around my feet while I answer emails.

What's brewing?

My husband and I love Nespresso; we have machines at our separate offices as well as ones at home. When I’m at work, I usually make a few shots of espresso using my shiny red Nespresso machine. I add a little bit of sugar-in-the-raw. It’s important to have a secret supply of cookies as well.

Any treats for you or Argos on this occasion?

Again, cookies are essential, not only for maintaining blood sugar levels but also for keeping up morale. Argos gets little salmon bites: stinky, delicious, and also good for his morale. If I’m being extra silly, I let Argos drink his water out of a porcelain espresso cup.

How did Argos get his name? Any aliases?

Argos is named for the loyal hound of Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey. When Odysseus returns to Ithaca in disguise, after a twenty-year absence (first ten years in the Trojan War, followed by another decade trying to get home), Argos is the first one to recognize him. Because my husband and I met and fell in love at St. John’s College, often referred to as “The Great Books School,” it’s almost a requirement of our degree that we name our dog after some character from a classic of Western literature. Even more fittingly, my husband is now career Navy—a sailor like Odysseus—and Argos often functions as the main companion to my modern-day Penelope.

Argos goes by many names: Mangy Dog, Nutters, Fuzzy Nutkin, the WonderPup, the Wheat-a-bixen, or just Bixen.

His official, full name is Argos Dubrow The Wheaten Terrier Lambikins Schaub.

How were you and Argos united?

I had just reached the stage in my PhD program where I was now “ABD” (All But Dissertation), my coursework done, my writing supported by a wonderful research fellowship. My husband and I had been talking for several years about the possibility of a dog: something fuzzy for me, something sturdy enough for my husband to walk without humiliation. I remember that I was sitting on the living room floor, drafting a poem, when my husband slowly opened the front door and a tiny brown body entered the room: all black button nose and dark paws. That was my first meeting with Argos.

Does Argos contribute to your writing?

Argos always keeps me company when I’m drafting or revising; he likes to lie under the couch or slowly steal the corner of my blanket, a I tap-tap on my laptop. Argos is an essential figure in my third book, Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2010), which addresses my experiences as a military spouse through the Before, During, and After of a deployment. At least four poems in the collection mention Argos directly. Here’s one from the opening section of Stateside:


     You lead the puppy past the moored boat.
He nuzzles sand, runs to where the waves break,
     snaps at lacquered fish that swim near shore.
You let him off the leash, because you like
     to see the freedom of a loosened thing,
a ball releasing from a hand, a voice
     untying from the collar of the throat.
Each day you walk a little farther, then bring
     him home to me, his tail a muddy spike,
his body soggy as a kitchen mop.
     We don’t wring him dry but watch him shake
the ocean out, watch him rub his face across
     the carpet until he falls asleep, sopping,
curled tightly as a seashell on the floor.

Who are Argos's best pet-pals?

My parents have a madcap Tibetan Terrier named Metro (we call him Turbo). Although Metro is three years younger and is small enough to run under Argos’ belly, the two dogs play as if they’re littermates. Their games seem to have mutually agreed upon rules. For instance, the kitchen is a “safe zone” and the dining room table must be circled at least a dozen times at speeds no less than a full-out run.

Rabbit, postman, cat....?

Argos is a lover not a hater. He’s never met anything that he didn’t want to lick. I believe that Argos sees the world as made up of different sizes and shapes of dogs. Men?—tall dogs. Squirrels?—fast-moving, tree-climbing dogs. Rabbits?—shy, nose-twitching dogs. Girls?—flower-scented dogs.

Squeaky toy, ball, stick...?

For years, one of Argos’ favorite toys was a two-dollar stuffed polyester bone from the drugstore. My mother bought it for him for Hannukah, and the toy was embroidered with the word “KOSHER.” This bone became the only toy he would acknowledge in a pile full of expensive, boutique toys made from natural lambs wool, organic cotton, and indestructible ballistic nylon. He loved that Kosher bone so much that it eventually smelled like a real bone, the squeaker lost its squeak, and the blue and white fleece turned brown.

is Argos's best quality?

I call Argos “The Ambassador,” because he makes friends with everybody. He wags first, asks questions later. When we walk the streets of Chestertown, people often call out “Hi, Argos!” He’s a celebrity at the Saturday Farmer’s Market, a regular visitor to the local businesses, and a greeter on all the sidewalks in downtown.

If Argos could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I am his groomer. Every three weeks we hop in the shower together, after which I pour medicine in his ears, force him to towel dry in the sun, and eventually spend two hours cutting and brushing his hair. I suspect Argos would rather I allowed him to roll in a pile of moldy leaves or let him rub his face across the lawn until his beard turned green.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Argos could speak, which actor should do his voice?

You mean Argos can’t speak? To whom have I been speaking for the past six years?!

If Argos could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

I would ask Argos, “What are you dreaming about when your legs start to twitch in sleep and you make that little, close-mouthed bark?”

Visit Jehanne Dubrow's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow (April 2010).

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow (November 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

1 comment:

  1. Argos is great! And of course we can speak. I talk to MOM all the time.