Sundress Reads: A Review of Ghost Dogs

Dion O’Reilly’s debut collection of poetry, Ghost Dogs, is a fascinating portrayal of growth and perspective. The collection is separated into five sections and primarily follows the same nameless narrator. We follow this narrator’s life from childhood to old age and witness their growth as the poetry itself becomes more mature. While early poems are full of pain, regret, and anger, the later poems possess a wry wit and a sense of optimism.

The first two sections primarily regard the narrator’s childhood and teenage years, in which they suffered physical abuse at the hands of both her parents. She calls out her father’s hypocrisy in the poem “Liberal Father,” in which we meet a father who works tirelessly to promote social and political justice while beating his children.

The early poems are teeming with pain and the confusion that comes to a child who does not understand why the one who should love them continues to hurt them. “Ode to High Tea” wonderfully juxtaposes, “Apricot pie, lemon bars, scones, water biscuits…” and an overall idyllic California afternoon with their mother slapping the back of her head with a wet flannel dishcloth before yanking a fine-toothed comb through her matted hair. Suddenly, the rest of the family has joined them in the kitchen and she is left contemplating the origin of her tea.

O’Reilly does an incredible job of portraying the irrationality of young minds; one moment experiencing trauma, the next daydreaming about tea, “…carried on the heads of porters / a hundred miles across mud valleys.”

As the narrator grows, the poems begin to change. The narrator shifts from suffering at the hands of her parents, to suffering at the hands of men. Some are stories of bad relationships and some are of violence. The memories our narrator accounts are still portrayed as things she does not fully understand. There is still confusion in her voice and anger at her misfortune.

By part three, our narrator starts to look outward—Daydreaming about prehistoric man and a man who steals a plane. She begins to speak with more agency than in earlier poems. In the poem “Ex” she sees her ex-boyfriend exit a Trader Joes and unpack his groceries into his car. As she watches, she recounts their sex life and does so without shame or embarrassment but also without any remorse for the relationship being finished, illustrating the narrator’s growth from dwelling on the negative to embracing the positive.

In parts four and five our narrator finds her voice. These poems are more concerned with the present, rather than lost in the past and when they do go back in time, they do so with the wisdom and perspective of old age.

In the early poems you get a sense of the narrator feeling sorry for herself but in the later poems the narrator is poised and in control. She’s learned not to take life too seriously and to live in the moment. In the poem, “At 62” our narrator describes a visit to the doctor where she is told she has the body of an 80-year-old woman but her response to this troubling news is lighthearted, wishing for a physician who would, “list her body’s features / like a used-car-pitch.” Our narrator is no longer interested in victimhood or understanding the irrationality of abuse; she’s past that. She’s looking outside of herself with bravery and honesty. In “Birdman” she admits that her parrot probably doesn’t want to live in a cage in her house and in “Another Happiness” she humorously speaks of her struggle as a poet, “You can’t write like that. / You don’t read enough Virgil and Milton, don’t start”…

It’s almost as if our narrator comes to life in these last two sections, shedding the ghosts of her past and refusing to let them continue to haunt her. Because much like dogs, memories treat us the way we treat them. If you stick your memories in a cage, beat them and starve them, they will be sure to bite. But when we embrace our memories and take ownership of them, however bad their origins have been—when we rescue them and show them kindness, they will not hurt us. Instead, they show us all the good we have inside us; they show us how to be better people. Ghost Dogs shows us how this process unravels and I, as a reader, can’t help but take delight in the bumpy, violent, and beautiful journey.

Ghost Dogs is available at Terrapin Books


In addition to being an Editorial Intern at Sundress Publications, Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science and was recently accepted to the University of Rochester to earn an MA in English. They graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature and have been featured in a number of publications including McSweeney’s and Literary Heist. They are also a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib and the founding editor of My Little Underground, a music review site written exclusively by musicians. You can follow them on twitter @AdaWofford. 

cahoodaloodaling Hiring New Positions

cahoodaloodaling header for Sundress

cahoodaloodaling is an online quarterly journal founded in 2012. We publish in the months of January, April, July, and October. As a collaborative journal, our quarterly issues are shaped by an eclectic staff and a revolving guest editor. Our calls for submissions, molded by our guest editors, are based on either a theme or a writing style. As such, our issues are ever-changing and our style ever-evolving. New team members will have opportunities to interact and work with other members of our international staff, as well as our contributors and guest editors. We are looking for diverse voices to add to our staff in several positions, including Production Editor, Special Feature Editor, Social Media Maven, Book Reviewer, and Book Review Editor.

Minimum age requirement for all positions is 16; no maximum. Being bilingual or a polyglot is a plus, but not a requirement. Individuals working inside or outside of academia are welcome. You are welcome to think of these positions as an internship and I am happy, as managing editor, to write letters of recommendation for any staff who performs their duties.

We are a collaborative publication and are looking for individuals who, beyond their specified duties, engage in our creative community. All members are added to our Facebook group and offer feedback and input as a team. We hope that by extending our staff, we can grow both as a journal and as individuals.

We believe that experiencing publishing from both working behind the scenes at a journal and by submitting to journals is important for our team members. For editor positions, we do require that applicants have published work prior to applying.

Production Editor

We are seeking to fill one Production Editor position. Production Editor will work directly under managing editor, Raquel Thorne.

Our Production Editor will be responsible for building pages for each issue. As such, our PE must have excellent WordPress.org skills. We are looking for a creative and visual individual to help translate our accepted submissions to our online platform. Must work well under deadlines, as the turn-around from final cuts to issue publication are at most 6 weeks, and at times up to a few days, before an issue goes live. Although PEs are not responsible for the bulk of editing, copyediting skills are a must as our PE will be last in line for reviewing work before it goes live.

Position is a minimum one year/four issue commitment.

Special Feature Editor(s)

We seek to fill one to two Special Feature Editor positions to work directly with our managing editor, Raquel Thorne. Special Feature Editor(s) will be responsible for maintaining our special feature gmail account and incoming proposals as well as soliciting work for special features. As our tastes are eclectic, so are our special features, which may take the form of community projects, collaborations, round tables, etc. SFE will pitch ideas to managing editor, Raquel Thorne, but will have much creative control over what they publish.

We are interested in bridging gaps in our creative community, between what is considered “literary” and that which is considered “not,” as well as supporting under-represented voices and producing a safe space for our eclectic, and often marginalized, creative community. Previous special features have included collaborative projects from writing groups to showcasing work from a super hero universe.

We are looking for self-starters. Applicants must be able to meet deadlines and have experience working with WordPress.org sites. Reliable computer access and an internet connection is a must.

Position is a minimum one year/four special feature commitment.

Social Media Maven

Our Social Media Maven will be responsible for promoting our published work on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. We are seeking someone who is familiar with these platforms, and who can help us promote our brand. Ideally, we want someone who can resigned our Tumblr to help us reach a broader audience. We do not have, but are open, to developing an Instagram presence and reviving our Ello account. Reliable computer access and an internet connection is a must. If you are also familiar with additional platforms, please let us know.

Position is a minimum six month requirement. Most duties will be required in the month following issue publication.

Book Reviewer/Book Review Editor

We are seeking 1-3 dedicated book reviewers. At cahoodaloodaling we accept unsolicited book review requests. Reviewers would select books from our requests and are expected to give honest reviews.

If you are interested in being our Book Review Editor, please indicate so in your application. Our BRE would be responsible for working with our staff, including readers who also may elect to do reviews, and as such would be responsible for line editing.

Position is a minimum six month/two issue commitment for reviewers, or a one year/four issue commitment for editors.

TO APPLY FOR A POSITION, email Managing Editor Raquel Thorne at cahoodaloodaling@gmail.com with the position you’re applying for in the subject line, and address the following questions:

  • The basics: Name and preferred pronouns, as well as location (timezone). Also feel free to tell us any demographic information you feel comfortable sharing, which can include disability, age, ethnicity, religion, political party, etc. I assure you, we are open to anyone but Trump supporters. Do not feel the need to share anything you are not comfortable sharing.
  • What does good literary citizenship mean to you?
  • What is your specialty/specialties? Poetry, Fiction, Nonfction, Hybrid, Visual Artist, etc.
  • Please tell us who you are both inside and outside of the literary community (250-500 words). Also use this as a space to also link us to previous work you have published, including personal blogs.
  • What are your personal prejudices? (As an example: Raquel Thorne, the managing editor, is strongly prejudiced against work that sentimentalizes individuals as “angels”. And ghost metaphors. But all the dinosaur poems get her vote.)
  • Do you have any special skills you can bring to our group? For example, do you know how to set up advertising on our site and find appropriate advertisers (to our mission/creative community)? Or, do you know how to set up Google Translate so that we can reach a broader audience?

Additional roles may be created to suit excess, promising applicants. All positions at cahoodaloodaling are unpaid. Prior to applying, please read our current issue: http://cahoodaloodaling.com/.