​Patrick McDonnell on Poetry, Collaboration, and Being Present | MUTTS

​Patrick McDonnell on Poetry, Collaboration, and Being Present

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February Q&A with Patrick McDonnell

Every few weeks, I sit down for a Q&A with Patrick to find out what’s new in his neck of the woods, and to chat about the newest point in the 12-step MUTTS Manifesto. This month is no different, and I think our current Manifesto topic (“To be present”) is particularly fitting — not only for us at Team MUTTS, but also for so many wonderful members of the MUTTS community.

I’ve noticed that, of late, many of our friends have been even more active and outspoken than usual about their love for animals and the environment. And as always, we at MUTTS applaud your efforts to protect all creatures and the beautiful planet we share with them. Do keep it up; we’re with you.

With that said, it’s also important practice self-care and being present — a concept that likely means something different to everyone. For some, perhaps it means shutting off all devices, stepping away temporarily from the pings and dings of digital distractions, and instead delving into good book or admiring a beautiful sunset. For others, maybe it means sitting down with human loved ones for dinner or a conversation, or spending quality time with an animal companion during a nap, walk, or a game of fetch.

In this month’s discussion with Patrick, I ask about his own version of being present.

“I’m most present when working on the MUTTS strip,” he says. “When you do artwork, time stands still, and you’re really in the moment. Creating art is a form of meditation — and I know that’s true because I’ll sit down and do the work, and when I look up, hours have passed by! But it feels like only five minutes.

“The same is true when I’m working on my children’s books. I’ve also been painting a lot lately, and when I paint, I lose myself and am really present. But it’s not just art. When I’m doing other things, like washing the dishes, I try to really do that. Or when I’m walking Amélie, I’m just focused on being outside with her and letting that be the moment.”

I ask if he’s picked up any of these habits from his animal companions. “Oh, definitely,” he replies. “Probably from our cat more than our dog. Amélie is a Jack Russell Terrier, so she has her crazy moments. And although she might be in the moment in her own way, that moment is usually something like, you know, barking at the mailman.” He laughs. “But cats are different. When you sit down and pet a cat, you really do get lost in the purr.”

Spending time with animals (and learning from them) also happens to be the overarching subject of Patrick’s new book Darling, I Love You, which is a collaborative collection of poetry and illustrations. Patrick worked with renowned poet Daniel Ladinsky to create the book. “How did that partnership arise?” I ask.

“I discovered Daniel’s work a few years ago while browsing the spiritual section of a bookstore,” he explains. “He’s famous for translating the poets Rumi and Hafiz — and he translates them not only with insight, but also with some humor. Quite a few of his poems include animal imagery, and I related to his work. It seemed we had similar sensibilities.

“While reading his poems, I was inspired to illustrate them. I took the liberty to do some examples and sent them to Daniel with the idea that — if he liked them — maybe we could do a book of illustrated poems he’d already written. A year went by. So I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ve insulted the poet!’ Poets and artists can be sensitive, and I’d taken a gamble. As it turned out, though, he’s a wandering poet, and he just hadn’t been home in a year. When he finally saw my illustrations, he wrote to me and said he would love to do a book. And even more exciting, he said he would write new poems based on the MUTTS characters.”

“That is exciting!” I say. “How did it feel to read those new poems, knowing they were based on MUTTS?”

“It was awesome. He’s someone who I really admire. And because I loved some of his older poems so much — ones that had already been published in his other books — we included a few of those, too.”

He refers back to our original topic, about being present and how animals help us with that. “Animals help us spiritually, and that’s what Darling, I Love You is really about. In my introduction to the book, I write about how poets and comics are very similar — and for that reason, our collaboration really works. Daniel’s poems, accompanied by the MUTTS comics, really get to the heart of the matter. And they’ll put a smile on your face.”

“Oh, and one last thing,” he adds. “For anyone who does buy the book, I recommend they read it with a cat or dog on their lap.”

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By MUTTS Staff Writer Ali Datko

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