We’re proud of offering goods made by artists and makers from around the world. But we have a special, parental pride when a design’s DNA is 100% from the UncommonGoods “family”–like our Pet Pedigree Poem items. Unique from head to tail, these items, which are exclusive to UncommonGoods, feature an acrostic poem celebrating your breed’s special traits.
The idea to mix paintings with acrostic poems came together serendipitously, and blended the skills and talents of the UncommonGoods Product Development team, led by Carolyn Topp (Director of New Business and Product Development), and Dr. Martin Geller, a retired psychiatric physician who is the father of UncommonGoods Senior Purchasing Planner (and not incidentally, organizer of our literary book club), Louise Geller.
Carolyn tells us how pets and poems came together in the creation of these unique items.
Carolyn: Our customers love pet items, so we were working on coming up with some new ones. Nelson, my Airedale, was the inspiration for this idea. (He’s the fourth Airedale I’ve owned, and his registered name is “Woodcrest’s Lord Nelson of Lynnaire.”)
Our longtime collaborator, Patricia Carlin, and I are both pet lovers. I had been telling her about my Nelson. So we started coming up with ideas about breeds and pedigrees. Patricia came up with the art, as well as breed-specific attributes.
Louise Geller came up with the idea of having her dad write acrostics. We were presenting the art Patricia had done at our weekly Product Development meeting, which she is part of. We were talking about how to cleverly way present the breed characteristics, and she thought of his poems.
Dr. Geller takes up the tail, we mean tale.
Martin: I’ve had a very informal “creative” bent all of my life. I made up multitudes of stories as a young child, began in middle school to produce original comic strips, wrote humorous and satirical stories for my high school literary magazine, and, in college, was an editor of the humor magazine, for which I wrote many short stories and quite a few poems, including parodies. I even proposed a project involving turning all of the plays of Shakespeare into limericks (I think I finished three of those). In medical school I wrote the song lyrics for a couple of class shows.
I grew up in Brooklyn, and I was a big reader. I began working at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in 1964, first as a psychiatric resident, then as an attending psychiatrist, finally as a Unit Chief of a teaching ward. I retired in 2012, but I still run one course and occasional case conferences at Bellevue and NYU.
I think I wrote my first acrostic poem in my fourth year of medical school, in dedication to a neurology supervisor who was leaving for another school. It later became my habit at Bellevue to write acrostic poems based on the names of (mostly) people on my team who were leaving, to be read at their going-away parties.
Louise was familiar with my acrostics, and had me write acrostics for some of her friends, including a wedding acrostic with the first names of the bride and groom side by side and then the married name below in a single stanza. (I’m able usually to knock off such a poem upon request in a half hour or less, being given the name and a few facts about the person.)
When Louise approached me for Uncommon Goods, I was very game.
Carolyn: I suggested he start with an Airedale poem. I think he emailed it to me the next day. I loved it—it captured all the elements of the the breed, in a new and original way.
It was important that the characteristics described in each poem be credible to the specific breed, so I provided him with some guidance about AKC info about dog breeds.
Martin wrote poems about familiar, beloved breeds like Poodles, Beagles, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Dachsunds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Yorkshire Terriers. Then, more flowed from his pen: Havanese. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Eventually, the cats appeared: Siamese. Calico. Tabbies. Tuxedos. And more.
Carolyn: He would submit poems, [Senior Product Developer] Tiffany Jyang would coordinate with the team for review and suggested edits that Martin would quickly incorporate and update. We spoke at length over the phone a few times, but we didn’t meet in person until after the initial 29 dogs and cats were completed.
Cats were harder to come up with more unique poems for, because they have fewer distinct characteristics by type than pedigree dog breeds do. Cats may be distinguished by look, but there is more behavioral commonality across different-looking cat groupings.
Martin: Louise’s four cats have certainly been an inspiration, as were my mother-in-law’s series of cats, one of whom followed her into assisted living.
Our customers have been loving the items, so we’re planning to expand with more items and breeds.
We asked Martin if focusing so intently on the different breeds of dogs and types of cats had an effect on his thinking.
Martin: My passion is for insects, reptiles and amphibia, but writing the poems has made me feel more affectionate toward dogs. My physical therapist owns an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Rocky, who hangs out in her office and ogles the exercisers. I’ve grown very fond of this dog, and scratch his back for a long time whenever he greets me. Carolyn provided me with a King Charles mug to present to his owner.
My once-severe allergies to dogs and cats have vanished, but I can’t ascribe this to the poems!
Carolyn has high praise for Martin’s talents. “He has an extraordinary mind and talent to come up with those acrostics,” she says. But modest Martin won’t have it.
“I believe sincerely that the genuine art involved in the products is Patricia Carlin’s,” he insists.
If we were as talented as he, we’d write an acrostic about him—but we suspect that would embarrass him. And it wouldn’t be nearly as good as his poems, anyway!