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Amidst the Nonsense
Man with a Beard

It was quite by accident that I discovered a remarkable anthology of poetry and song last week.  I stumbled across Natalie Merchant’s performance on TEDTalks where she brings old poems, many of them written for children, to life in a spellbinding 30 minute performance/lecture that reminded me of the many poems I used to read/sing to myself as  a child and to my daughter when I was a new parent.  Merchant's fabulous performance of Nathalia Crane’s (a child prodigy poet during the Jazz Age) The Janitor Boy brought great memories of that first boy crush and the innocence that embraces first infatuation:


Oh I'm in love with the janitor's boy
He's busy as he can be;
And down in the cellar he's making a raft
Out of an old settee.

He'll carry me off, I know that he will,
For his hair is exceedingly red;
And the only thing that occurs to me
Is to dutifully shiver in bed.

Lately, I find myself surrounded by smirks from my childhood.  Perhaps it's because I just turned fifty and I'm wondering if I'm now too old to be childish.  The current 3D film of “Alice in Wonderland” seemed to catch the many dimensions I loved about Alice, but it left me yearning for the fabulous tongue twister and fantastical frolic in articulation that opens Lewis Carroll’s famous poem Jabberwocky.  As a young girl, I had a Disney record which was recorded very differently from the animated soundtrack version.  The opening stanza of Jabberwocky was done in a big band jazz rendition (forever imprinted in my brain) which exists for me in medley with Alice singing “I Give Myself Very Good Advice” with a rather defiant tone compared to the weepy version in the animated feature.  To this day, I hum the tune and whisper the words of both as I make the transition from “Invisible Girl” (See blog post on 9/1/09) to visible girl.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.  – From Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky

From the Disney animated feature of Alice in Wonderland:

I give myself very good advice
but I very seldom follow it
that explains the trouble that I'm always in

"Be patient" is very good advice
but the waiting makes me curious
and I'd love the change should something strange begin. . .  
                   – words by Bob Hilliard, music by Sammy Fain

And the world of nonsense would never be complete without some tidbits from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh.  I read all the Milne books as a pre-teen, but it was as a mother of an infant when Winnie-the-Pooh’s nonsensical advice combined with Tigger’s contagious exuberance (aided by sleep deprivation),  let me see Milne's genius and the sense of place that those wonderful poems brought.  I would turn the poems into lullabyes, one in particular that I sang as I rocked my daughter to sleep on a winter day, repeating in decrescendo until the poem/song was just a whisper: 

The more it snows (Tiddly Pom)
The more it goes (Tiddly Pom)
On snowing.

And Nobody knows (Tiddly Pom)
How cold my toes (Tiddly Pom)
How cold my toes (Tiddly Pom)
Are growing.
        --From The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne

And this song for the picky eater . . .

"What shall we do about poor little Tigger?
If he never eats nothing he'll never get bigger
He doesn't like honey and haycorns and thistles
Because of the taste and because of the bristles
And all the good things which an animal likes
Have the wrong sort of swallow or too many spikes
But whatever his weight in pounds, shillings, and ounces
He always seem bigger because of the bounces"

--Excerpt from Tigger Comes to the Forest, by A.A. Milne

 And of course, who could live life without experiencing Edward Lear’s “A Book of Nonsense.”  We had a children’s encyclopedia growing up, but the most read and my favorite part of the collection was the thread-worn Volume I: Nursery Rhymes and Other Stories.  It was many years later that I realized that the many hysterical limericks and drawings were published unattributed from Lear’s third book.  At the time, children’s literature wasn’t deemed worthy of attribution. 

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!' 

               --Excerpt from A Book of Nonsense, by Edward Lear

Take your own walk through the poems of your childhood.  Celebrate the unpredictability, the laughable moments, your first crush, the food you abhor, the changing of the weather, or whatever nonsense you find today and write your own poem.  And then, if you’re really brave, give it a melody and belt it out.  I promise, you will feel something, and I bet it will be better.

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childhood poetry

I listened to Natalie Merchant on TED, too. Really inspiring and sensitive work! I loved your post. AA Milne was always my favorite, but I have probably forgotten in a quick glance backward what poetry was fun and engaging back in my little years. This was a beautiful post. Loved it very much.

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A.A. Millne

I only met Milne as an adult. I loved reading him to our children because I thought he was so funny and writing as much for me as for the children.