Daisy's post with its reference to Dr. Seuss' The Foot Book reminds me of how important an influence Dr. Seuss is--acknowledged or not, consciously or unconsciously--to metrical poets of my generation. He gave us part of our ear for rhyme and our ear for rhythm. Sure, he is usually metrically quite regular, but the rhythms are highly varied--monosyllables and polysyllables, heavy and light nuggets of sound--as they are distributed over the metrical feet, in a breezily and distinctly American vernacular. All you need to do to appreciate Dr. Seuss's nimble prosody is to pick up any other contemporary book of children's verse. So much of it is so lackluster--full of clunky, predictable rhymes, barely scanning, and larded with filler. (Julia Donaldson, of Gruffalo fame, is a rare exception, though not quite in the same league.) When I try to read the books of plodding prosody to our toddler, he frowns a page or two in and announces, "The End."
Of course, Seuss is subversive too--what could be more subversive in a Puritan society than to announce to kids that "Fun is good"? We romanticize childhood to the extent that we shun adulthood, but being a child is also to be helpless and in the power of others (as anyone with a toddler can tell you, this is extremely frustrating!). Yet "A person's a person no matter how small."
He plays wonderful games with grammar that are as slyly didactic as they are ludic. How better to encapsulate the quirks and inconsistencies of English plurals than in the four syllables, "one fish, two fish"? Or to play with our expectations the other way round:
Then he did the same thing
To the other Whos' houses
Much too small
For the other Who's mouses!
(Changing "who" from a relative pronoun to a proper noun is another twinkling wink at the rules of grammar.)
The Lorax, of course, couldn't be more topical. It is clear as to its moral, but it conveys by showing more than telling (after all, the whole narrative is in the voice of the Onceler, a layer of dramatic irony). It isn't, I would venture to say, preachy.
If you ever get a chance to pick up the CD of Dr. Seuss songs from the TV specials of the late sixties (The Original TV Sound Tracks Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas & Horton Hears a Who)--I think I picked up mine at a grocery store while Stateside one Xmas--it is a bargain. The songs, written by Dr. Seuss himself and set to music by Poddany, are as brilliant as the books. There's his delicious "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch," which I think has been covered by a number of bands. And the "alarmingly plausible" macaronic Christmas carol, which I can only call, "Wha Who Wha Who." In his song for the Wickersham Brothers from Horton Hears a Who, Seuss encapsulates the occasionally paranoid streak in American politics that seems to be the flip side of our inalienable rights, in the voice of some sinister hear-no-evil see-no-evil Darwinian apes. "Pretending to talk to who's who are not" is, they announce:
"A plot, plot, plot plot".
Luckily they are
"Hot-shot spotters of rotters and plotters
And we're going to save our sons and our daughters
Horton the elephant is apparently out to "kill free enterprise" and "wreck our compound interest rates," and
Shut our schools
and steal our jewels
And even change our football rules
Take away our garden tools
And lock us up in vestibules!
BUT for-tu-na-te-ly we're no fools...
OK, I had to try to jot that down in blue crayon as the CD was playing--so it might not be totally accurate, but you get the picture. Fun is good.
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...