The Jabberwock, Sheldon Silverstein. Ogden Nash. These were some of the highlights of a spur-of-the-moment poetry evening with a 10-year-old Grand.
Our poetry spree was kicked off when Paterfamilias tried to remember the words of that most rhythmic of sport ditties, Casey at the Bat.
We had been talking to our Grand about her experiences on the soccer field and added some commentary about expectations on the field of play. PF remembered only a few of his favorite lines from the tale of how Casey, mighty Casey advanced to the bat--he and the team's fans secure in the knowledge that he would get a hit and win the game for the Mudville Nine that day. That was enough to send our son-in-law to his iPad, where he called up Ernest Thayer’s poem. PF read through the whole work, which ends with these jolting lines, “Oh somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;/The band is playing somewhere and somewhere hearts are light, and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;/But there is no job in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.”
Our Grand then grabbed her book of Shel Silverstein poems and treated us to a reading of one of her favorites, Sick, in which a little girl who doesn’t want to go to school lists her complaints, “I have the measles and the mumps,/a gash, a rash and purple bumps.” And, like Thayer, Silverstein ends with a kicker: “What’s that? What’s that you say?/You say today is…Saturday?/G’bye I’m going out to play.”
We talked a little bit about surprise endings--how the poet raised our expectations then turned them on their head.
Could I top those works? I was not going to reach for my Wordsworth and his daffodils. I told the tale of how, when I had the job of answering Letters to the Editor for Time Magazine, a reader had written to query a Time writer's use of the description of a knife as having "a vorpal blade." That was how I learned of Lewis Carroll's delicious use of nonsense words. I wanted to share all the nonsense (the slithy tove; the frumious Bandersnatch], but I could only remember a line or two. iPad to the rescue. When the poem's narrator meets the dreaded Jabberwock, he is armed with his ever-effective vorpal blade: "'One two, One two and through and through/the vorpal blade went snicker-snack."
We talked a little bit about how Carroll didn't use a surprise ending, just a nonsense-word driven juxtaposition of vorpal-blade carnage with the a peaceful image: "'Twas brilling and the slithy toves/did gyre and gimble in the wabe..."
I didn't need the iPad to help me out with Ogden Nash's brief little couplet: "The cow is of the bovine ilk/one end is moo, the other milk." No surprise. No juxtaposition. Just silly fun.
So our poetry evening went on. We introduced our Grand to some more of our favorites--with a little memory boost from the iPad--and she let us in on hers. Light and nonsense-y though the poems were, it was a memorable evening. And it gave us a chance to talk about some of the "arts" of great writing--without making it a lecture or a heavy evening. And it gave us a chance to share light lines that still pack some thought-provoking ideas, and to make the trip down a cultural lane a fun game of "can you top this?'