Friday, April 11

A Joker and a Jack

Uncle Shelby's Zoo: Don't Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies
by Shel Silverstein
originally published by HMH Publications Inc. (Playboy) 1963
HarperCollins 2008

My Dog May Be a Genius
by Jack Prelutsky
HarperCollins / Greenwillow 2008

In these waning days of his tenure as Children's Poet Laureate, Jack Prelutsky and his publishers (who also happen to be Silverstien's publisher) give us another of his larger poetry omnibuses. For as much as I like to pick away at Prelutsky I have to give the man credit for his consistency and his ability to deliver the exact tone of poem that children like to read over and over.

There's hardly any subject new under the sun when it comes to topics for poetry but "A Letter From Camp" sounds a bit too close to Allen Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah" for my comfort. And then there's "The Underwater Marching Band" which had a cadence that, I swear, made me start humming along with Sandra Boynton's (of all people) "The Uninvited Loud Precision Band."

Rife with puns and wordplay, fart jokes and concrete poems, Prelutsky provides an ample smorgasbord for young palates.
I Thought I Saw

I thought I saw BBBBBBBBBBB
dive down into the CCCCCCC.
Could I believe my own II?
I'm not so sure, I'm not YY.
That would be eleven bees, seven seas, two eyes, too wise. As we say around the house; pretty clever, toilet lever.

Then he's got stuff that comes off like a cross between Hilaire Belloc Greek wrestling with Ogden Nash in front of the hearth, with a tip o' the hat to William Stieg's CDB:
A Bear is Not Disposed

A bear is not disposed
to dressing up in clothes,
not even underwear,
A bear likes being bare.
Indeed. Emphasize any one word in that last line like an actor's exercise for a variety of meanings.

* * *

Shel Silverstein was his own dog, so to speak. His early years were spent drawing cartoons of army life, as well as writing and drawing his observations for Playboy magazine. He also wrote lyrics to something like 800 songs that were recorded by people as diverse as Johnny Cash ("A Boy Named Sue"), The Irish Rovers ("The Unicorn"), and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show ("The Cover of the Rolling Stone").

I point this out because I want to show off how much I know about Uncle Shelby. No! Wait! I point this out because there's something about the spirit of Shel Silverstien that comes though most of his work, that sense of the absurd married to the real. I say most of his work because occasionally that spirit is missing, for whatever reason, and in the case of the reissue of Don't Bump the Glump! I feel the spirit has left the building.

Of course, the spirit did leave the building in 1999 when Silverstein died, and I half-suspect this book wouldn't have been reissued if he were still with us. Maybe I'm wrong, because his Evil Eye enterprise renewed the copyright. It isn't that it's bad, but it feels early, like a man working out his style, and doing so on Playboy's payroll.

Most of what we have are short little poems about imaginary beasties, each with its own little watercolor illustration to go with. One that hit me like a ton of bricks is the following. I could have sworn I've actually heard a recoding of Uncle Shelby playing his guitar and singing to this. Is this a buried childhood memory, or something my synapses concocted on their own.

The Slithergadee has crawled out of the sea.
He may catch the others, but he won't catch me.
No you won't catch me, old Slitherdagee
You mat catch the others, but you wo---
From the man who wrote the song "I Got Stoned and I Missed It" and was posthumously admitted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002. Thanks, Shel

* * *

Check out the Poetry Friday round-up this week over at A Wrung Sponge.


Sarah Stevenson said...

Heh. You crack me up. I would personally vote for
"A bear likes BEING bare."

Sarah Stevenson said...

Oh. And maybe the Slithergadee sounds familiar because it's very like the "Oh heck, it's up to my neck...oh dread, it's up to my mMmppgpghhh" poem?

eisha said...

You really DO know an awful lot about Shel.

VirtualT said...

Hello David. This blog looks fantastic. Where you get the energy for this is a mystery to me. The inspiration, I get that. Hope you and all are well as spring unfolds on the east coast.

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

"The Slithergadee" may sound familiar because you've heard "The Slithery Dee," a slightly modified version of the poem sung by the Smothers Brothers. It's on their album It Must Have Been Something I Said.