Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NPM: Shoving Off & Shel Silverstein

Another April, another commencement of another National Poetry Month. Let's throw the switch and get this dynamo spinning.

Poetry doesn't get much press in the high-pitched buzz of the digital age, but it is alive, and it's as well and even as relevant as ever. Essential to human experience is a compulsion to communicate one's experience to other humans, and poetry is a very special sort of communication. It is the language of epiphany and oracle, of tableaux and daydreams, of intimation and uncanny recognition, of the je ne sais quoi of existence as a sentient, corporeal entity. It can sing without music and tell a story without a narrative. It conveys vivid and textured images without pictures; it speaks volumes while saying very little. It casts a light upon the vital obscurities of ourselves and of the world we construct. Poetry will live and will matter as long as words remain our primary vehicle to the abstract, and as long as there are human beings with lightning in their brains that the conversational vernacular of a blog entry or a status update is inadequate to conduct.

I'm not any kind of scholar or authority on poetry, but I do enjoy reading it. And for the fourth year running, I'd like to spend this next month enjoying it with you all.

NPM 2014 is going to be tricky. I've already exhausted most of of my personal favorites over the last three years, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants here. A lot of what we'll be looking at this month is just stuff I arbitrarily stumbled upon and found myself enjoying—but we'll see if we can't fit in some classics, too.

But first, we'll begin by revisiting some familiar territory and fulfilling a promise I made (and forgot about) at the end of NPM 2012. Does Shel Silverstein—poet, cartoonist, lyricist, playwright, author of beloved American elementary school fixture The Giving Tree, beloved purveyor of poignancy and weirdness—even need an introduction?

I've mentioned elsewhere that I first began to enjoy poetry when I had to try writing it as part of a college course, but in retrospect, that isn't true. The first poetry I enjoyed was Silverstein's A Light in the Attic, which my father read to me when I was very young. So then it wasn't that I disliked poetry until my early twenties; it merely took me that long to come to hold the likes of Whitman and Ginsberg in the same esteem as Silverstein.

Shel Silverstein (1930 – 1999)

Sandra's seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins' gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
"I know what you mean," said the little old man.

Somebody Has To

Somebody has to go polish the stars,
They're looking a little bit dull.
Somebody has to go polish the stars,
For the eagles and starlings and gulls
Have all been complaining they're tarnished and worn,
They say they want new ones we cannot afford.
So please get your rags
And your polishing jars,
Somebody has to go polish the stars.

Enter this Deserted House

But please walk softly as you do.
Frogs dwell here and crickets too.

Ain't no ceiling, only blue.
Jays dwell here and sunbeams too.

Floors are flowers
—take a few
Ferns grow here and daisies too.

Swoosh, whoosh—
—too-whit, too-woo,
Bats dwell here and hoot owls too.

Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee, hoo-hoooo,
Gnomes dwell here and goblins too.

And my child, I thought you knew
I dwell here...and so do you.

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers....
How did it go?
How did it go?

Peanut Butter Sandwich

(When I was in the fourth grade I could recite this from memory.)

I'll sing you a story of a silly young king
Who played with the world at the end of a string,
But he only loved one single thing——
And that was just a peanut-butter sandwich.

His scepter and his royal gowns,
His regal throne and golden crowns
Were brown and sticky from the mounds
And drippings from each peanut-butter sandwich.

His subjects all were silly fools
For he had passed a royal rule
That all that they could learn in school
Was how to make a peanut-butter sandwich.

He would not eat his sovereign steak,
He scorned his soup and kingly cake,
And told his courtly cook to bake
An extra-sticky peanut-butter sandwich.

And then one day he took a bite
And started chewing with delight,
But found his mouth was stuck quite tight
From that last bite of peanut-butter sandwich.

His brother pulled, his sister pried,
The wizard pushed, his mother cried,
"My boy's committed suicide
From eating his last peanut-butter sandwich!"

The dentist came, and the royal doc.
The royal plumber banged and knocked,
But still those jaws stayed tightly locked.
Oh darn that sticky peanut-butter sandwich!

The carpenter, he tried with pliers,
The telephone man tried with wires,
The firemen, they tried with fire,
But couldn't melt that peanut-butter sandwich.

With ropes and pulleys, drills and coil,
With steam and lubricating oil——
For twenty years of tears and toil——
They fought that awful peanut-butter sandwich.

Then all his royal subjects came.
They hooked his jaws with grapplin' chains
And pulled both ways with might and main
Against that stubborn peanut-butter sandwich.

Each man and woman, girl and boy
Put down their ploughs and pots and toys
And pulled until kerack! Oh, joy——
They broke right through that peanut-butter sandwich.

A puff of dust, a screech, a squeak——
The king's jaw opened with a creak.
And then in voice so faint and weak——

The first words that they heard him speak
Were, "How about a peanut-butter sandwich?"

1 comment:

  1. "Some dummy build this pencil wrong.
    The eraser's down here where the point belongs,
    and the point's up top, so it's no use to me.
    It's amazing how stupid some people can be."

    Always my favorite as a kid.