Working Dog straps on the harness

By Sarah Custen, Red Pulse Writer

Who is the Working Dog? It’s difficult to say. He communicates exclusively via mail. He hosts readings at The Art Barn but does not attend them (hence the mail). And he consorts with all manner of graduate students. A tricky character to pin down, certainly.

The Working Dog Reading Series is easier to describe. It’s a series of readings throughout the school year held by English graduate students where they read their own work.

Last Thursday marked the first reading of the series’ ninth year. The reading opened, as it always does, with a written communiqué from the Working Dog himself. Normally, the Dog sends postcards, but this occasion was apparently special enough to warrant an envelope marked “Bail Out Plan,” containing a letter reminding us that “the Dog abides.” It was silly, but in an organized and thoughtful manner, which sums up much of what takes place at a Working Dog reading.

A fellow grad student introduces each reader. The introductions are artfully constructed and sincere. Eccentric anecdotes lead to inside jokes, which turn into beautiful, prose-like descriptions of the writer and his or her work.

The writers are a cross-section of the English department’s variety of creative styles and personalities. Thursday began with P. J. Carlisle, a doctorate degree candidate who read an excerpt from her novel about a troubled young girl who has recently lost her mother and brother in a fire that she started and finds some comfort in a young graffiti artist. Carlisle was followed by another doctorate student, Danielle Deulen, who lightheartedly joked about her heavy, violent poems. Next came Susan McCarty, also a doctoral student, who read excerpts from her collection of short stories about young brothers from Iowa8212;one who has cancer, both who love the rodeo. Kathryn Cowles closed with readings from her published book of poetry and a slide show of visual poems she had made8212;photos of landscapes, buildings and (of course) dogs with the text superimposed.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Working Dog is getting to hear the writers talk about their own work8212;what inspires them and what went into each poem or story. Cowles, who has been participating in the series for about four years, says this is her favorite part about the English graduate program and a great way to get into the local literary scene.

“It’s some of the best stuff from one of the best programs in the country,” Cowles said.

Cowles said she also enjoys that the Working Dog is always changing. As it’s passed from one group of grad students to another, each group brings new talents and ideas.

“It’s exciting to get some fresh blood in here,” Cowles said. “Keep the enthusiasm going.”

The enthusiasm is apparent, and contagious, in the audience. They laugh, sigh and then fill the small space with a thick applause after each writer. Oh, and they drink wine and eat snacks.

Chelsey Blackman, an English student, has been attending Working Dog for about two years. She wants to be a writer and said she enjoys the Working Dog because she’s “a junkie for the new and exciting writing and the people who aren’t afraid to experiment with poetry and language.” Blackman doesn’t see Working Dog as exclusive to writers or literary types, though.

Her friend, Trent Raleigh, agrees. Thursday was Raleigh’s first acquaintance with the Working Dog. An Environmental Studies and Economics major, Raleigh said the reading appealed to him because it was so different from what he’s focused on at school. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I’m definitely coming back.”

The Working Dog will make his whereabouts known next at 7 p.m. on Oct. 30 at The Art Barn (1325 E. 100 South).

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