FARGO — John Manesis has written about all kinds of subjects over the years, but his most recent poetic topic is his furriest yet.
A native of Eau Claire, Wis., the 84-year-old's writing draws on his own experiences. He was interested in writing in his 20s, but never got serious about it. That all changed in the mid-'80s when he took creative writing classes, and he's been writing poetry ever since that "late start."
He had previously published nine books — one children's book and eight collections of poetry — when his latest effort, "Tails & Tales," was released last summer. It might seem hard to keep thinking of topics, but Manesis says his latest book came as naturally as curiosity to a cat.
"I thought I might as well take advantage of 55 years' experience because we've had cats in our house for 55 years, and we've had a lot of interesting experiences with cats," he says.
Manesis declines to label himself a cat person, saying the women in his family — his wife, Bess, and two daughters — are more the feline fanatics of the clan. Instead, he thinks of himself as an "independent observer" who's had more than 20 cats in his life over the years.
Manesis and his wife now belong to a cat named Cleo. While it isn't her photo on the book cover, Manesis deliberately looked for a picture that resembled her — though Cleo is "beefier" than the cover model.
Sure, he likes cats, but he says it was rare to hear of anyone having a domestic cat while he was growing up in Wisconsin. Everyone had dogs, so the only felines he knew of were farm cats.
That all changed when he was serving in the Navy. While stationed at the naval hospital at Camp Pendleton, Calif., John and his wife decided their then-young kids could use a pet. They visited the local Humane Society and brought home Frisky, a "very nice cat," in 1967.
But things took a turn almost right away when Frisky got sick in the first week, a medical scare that Manesis recounts in one of the new book's poems, "A 1967 California Prophet."
The "prophet" in the poem was a cigarette-smoking military base vet, ashes falling onto the exam table as he told Manesis that Frisky had enteritis and would almost surely die from dehydration.
"He said, 'It won't do much good, but I'm going to give her a shot,'" Manesis recalls. Frisky got that injection in one of her hind legs and had a limp after that, but she survived thanks to the new cat dad's persistence and decision to give Frisky subcutaneous fluids at home to treat her dehydration.
"It was an initial interesting experience," he says.
Most of the poems in the 128-page "Tails & Tales" are short, sometimes just one or two stanzas. One stretches across three pages — and that longer work, fittingly, is about the experience of driving a Siamese cat named Zorba back from the Navy when he was discharged and went to Wisconsin.
"He did not like it at all," he says.
Manesis has become something of an experienced cat transporter and now regularly flies with his cat to and from their winter residence in California. Cleo "has to be OK with it," he jokes.
"There are a couple of poems about the traveling experiences with Cleo," he says.
Still, Manesis is not just a cat guy. He also likes dogs, even if he hasn't had one in more than a quarter century.
His previous literary work has covered a range of topics, including a collection of baseball poems in 2017. He's also published sonnets that look at classic children's stories and nursery rhymes, as well as work that explored the "interesting characters" in his extended Greek American family.
Manesis also took inspiration from his medical career: He practiced internal medicine for eight years and switched to a career as a diagnostic radiologist until retiring in 1996 in Fargo.
"There's so much to write about — patient care, their responses to treatment and the interchange, the exchanges between physicians and patients," he says.
He's also busy planning his 11th book, which he says will feature poems about his Greek American experience.
"I'm glad to say that when I retired at the age of 60, I've never been bored," he says. "This has occupied a lot of my time, and it's been very good for me."