DanielGroves is the author of The Lost Boys (University of Georgia Press/VQR Poetry Series, 2010). His poems have appeared in Paris Review, Yale Review, Poetry, and elsewhere.
A stay of execution: one last day,
your day, old Everydog, then, as they say,
or as we say (a new trick to avoid
finalities implicit in destroyed),
you have to be put down, or put to sleep—
the very dog who, once, would fight to keep
from putting down, despite our shouts, a shoe
until he gnawed it to the sole, and who
would sit up, through our sleepless nights, to bark
away some menace looming in the dark.
Can you pick up the sense of all this talk?
Or do you still just listen for a walk,
or else, the ultimate reward, a car?—
My God, tomorrow's ride . . . Well, here we are,
right now. You stare at me and wag your tail.
I stare back, dog-like, big and dumb. Words fail.
No more commands, ignore my monologue,
go wander off. Good dog. You're a good dog.
And you could never master, anyway,
the execution, as it were, of Stay
The first draft was composed in the spring of 2001 for a graduate school workshop. It started from my seeing or hearing the phrase "stay of execution" somewhere, and inverting it in the manner of James Merrill—his Collected Poems had just been published and I was reading it at the time (the line "Change of clothes? The very clothes of change!," for example, appears in Merrill's poem "Dreams about Clothes").
How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?
It underwent two minor revisions—the first was a few months after it was drafted, and preceded its appearing in a journal; the second was a few years after that, and preceded its appearing in a book.
Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?
I believe in inspiration, insofar as I doubt my own capacity for originality (let alone my capacity for sweat and tears). I suspect this poem was almost entirely "received."
How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?
Its final form is the same as that of the first draft, save for the break between stanzas. I don't remember choosing to write it in pentameter couplets for any special reason, but my being used to writing in them probably helped me to finish the first draft rather quickly. I consciously employed the chiasmus that occurs in the first and last lines; I started from the notion of placing "stay of execution" in the first line and "execution of stay" in the last line, and the first draft was an attempt at imagining a plausible context for those lines.
Was there anything unusual about the way in which you wrote this poem?
The first draft of it was written unusually quickly.
How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?
Just over two years.
How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?
The practice varies, but I prefer to let a draft sit for a month or two before revisiting it with an eye toward sending it off.
Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?
When I wrote the first draft our family dog whom I had grown up with was getting close to the end of his life, and that may have suggested to me the scene in the poem, once I had the phrase “execution of stay” in my head. But he wouldn’t be put to sleep for another year and a half ,and I wouldn’t be there when he was. Besides that, there is nothing about the dog described in the poem that particularly resembles our dog, even though I’m sure I must have imagined him while writing it.
Is this a narrative poem?
Slightly narrative—it might be called a dramatic monologue.
Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?
I was reading Merrill’s Collected Poems, as mentioned. Also, I think the chiasmic structure of the poem owes something to my having read Howard Nemerov’s essay “Bottom’s Dreams: The Likeness of Poems and Jokes.”
Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?
I think of a former teacher of mine, Greg Williamson, as an ideal reader. But most often I imagine that I am my own—only?—audience.
Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?
The members of the workshop that it was written for saw the first draft of this poem. I may share work with a former teacher or classmate of mine once in a while, but not regularly.
How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?
It differs in being a version of dramatic monologue; few if any of my other poems feature a speaker addressing another character within them. It also, in my experience, elicits a more sympathetic response than my other poems, though I think that in its procedures—in how it proceeds by wordplay—it is more like my other poems than unlike them.
What is American about this poem?
The speaker’s attitude to his dog, and the dog-related idioms played with, seem American, maybe, if not exclusively so.
Was this poem finished or abandoned?