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When It Comes To Furry Muses, Cats Are For Brevity And Dogs Are For Books

Ernest Hemingway once said that a cat has absolute emotional honesty: Human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.

So Hemingway might have appreciated Francesco Marciuliano's best-selling book, I Could Pee On This: And Other Poems By Cats, a collection of poems written in the very forward voice of a feline. The book became something of a phenomenon when it was released in 2012 and was followed by a book of dog poems. Here's a taste of Marciuliano's cat wisdom:

That's from the poem "Give." Marciuliano used to write for the Onion News Network and has written the comic strip Sally Forth for almost 18 years. He says even though the books are done with humor, they were created out of sadness.

"I had two cats for 17 years, Boris and Natasha. ... And after my second cat, Natasha, passed away, I was sad. And she passed away on Christmas Day, so I was really sad," he says. "And what I wanted to do — I wanted to do something that made me remember the cats in an uplifting way."

So he started writing poems, but didn't show them to anyone. It was Charlie Sheen who got Marciuliano to open up.

"A few weeks later, Charlie Sheen had a very public mental breakdown," he says. "So I took some quotes out of context and I attached them to photos of cats."

He put the photos and quotes on his website and in about three days got nearly a million-and-a-half hits. That gave him the courage to post the poems, which also got a good response. Marciuliano contacted his agent, who encouraged him to keep writing, and pretty soon he had a book deal for his cat poems and eventually got another deal for a book of dog poems called I Could Chew on This. Here's a taste of the dog poem "I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House:"

As funny as the poems might be, they speak to a very real conflict. "Dog books are much more popular than cat books historically and even today," says Daniel Engber, who has written about the topic for Slate. "There's an old joke in book publishing that the most popular book that could ever be written would be called Lincoln's Doctor's Dog. And the joke is about the fact that people just love books about Abraham Lincoln, they love books about doctors, and of course they love books about dogs."

On the other hand, the Internet, he says, is the undisputed territory of cats: Grumpy Cat, LOLCats, Henri the Existential Cat— the list goes on and on. According to Engber, it makes sense.

"Cats are animals that tend to sit around the house," he says. "They might be in view while you are sitting on your computer. They're short-form animals. They're good for YouTube videos, little two-minute clips.

And that's true whether they're playing the piano, stealing the dog's bed or writing poetry.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.