Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shel, Is That Really You?

It's like hearing from a friend you never thought you'd see again.

The late great Shel Silverstein, the genius behind Where the Sidewalk Ends, returns in a posthumous collection of never-before-published poems just released from HarperCollins.

Every Thing On It, out yesterday ($19.99, 208 pages), contains 145 illustrated poems that are signature Shel: off-the-cuff silly, wonderfully matter-of-fact, and in a few sparkling entries, self-effacing and poignant.

Silverstein's genuineness comes through in ever line, reminding us why we've adored his work. He was a dreamer and a kid at heart. He wasn't afraid to let it all out, even the wackiest of thoughts, and say things as they were (Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda and God's Wheel).

He made us feel great about trying (Listen to the Mustn'ts) and he got what kids were about. He gave them a voice when they felt unheard (The Little Boy and The Old Man) and even acted the rapscallion, playing off perceived injustices (Remote-a-Dad).

There wasn't anything, it would seem, he stayed away from, and as this poem in his new collection shows, he wasn't even averse to laughing at the craft he held dear: 

A lizzard in a blizzard
Got a snowflake in the gizzard
And nothing else much happened, I'm afraid,
But lizard rhymed with blizzard
And blizzard rhymed with gizzard
And that, my dear, is why most poems are made.

Some of his most hilarious poems are about kids being kids -- wanting more say in what they can do or seeing what they can get away with.

Here's a new one both parents and kids will chuckle about:

I have a disease called
The "lovetobutcants" --
I think it's time I told it.
I'd love to help with that garbage can
But my fingers just can't hold it.
Hand me a bag of groceries and
My wrists just turn to jelly.
Cuttin' grass and hedges
Gives me flutters of the belly.
The smell of paint will make me faint,
Sweat makes my eyes start itchin'.
Dishwater on my little hands
Will start 'em shaky-twitchin'.
PIckin' clothes up off the floor
Would paralyze my shoulder.
I must not try to close a door,
At least not till I'm older.
So though I'd love to join the work --
Till this disease is done,
I'll have to lie here in the shade
While you have all the fun."

And, of course, Silverstein's imagination, glorious as it was, is here for us to marvel at again and again. This one reminded me of his poem Rain.

A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web
Of silken threads and silver strings
To catch all sorts of flying things,
Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles
And specks of dried-up tears,
And dust of dreams that catch and cling
For years and year and years…

Silverstein wrote with such ease, it made us think we could do it too…until we tried. Here's one I wish I could have written:

If you want to play tennis, I'll give you a tip:
You must practice your stroke,
You must tighten your grip,
You must straighten your shoulders
And swivel you hip
And develop your sense of sportsmanship.

There are even a few poems in this collection to make us all melty inside.

Those scratchy marks there on the wall,
They show how short I used to be.
They rise until they get this tall,
And Mama keeps reminding me
The way my dad would take his pen
And as I stood there, stiff and straight,
He'd put a ruler on my head
And mark the spot and write the date.
She says that it's my history,
But I don't understand at all
Just why she cries each time she sees
Those scratchy marks there on the wall.

But especially this one:

Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile,
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing -- and I smile.

Though it's been 12 years since Silverstein passed away, every poem feels so fresh and new that it's as if our pal Shel breezed right back to say hello again.

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