Re-introduce yourself to Shel Silverstein
His comedic dark realism is the perfect companion for surviving a pandemic with a family (or solo).
As a child, I was drawn to weird characters, and for weirder reasons: I loved Donald Duck, not because he was Mickey’s sidekick but because despite the cruelness of his world he never gave up. I also had a fondness for Tom & Jerry. Well, I had a fondness for Tom, at least. That scoundrel Jerry can kiss my behind. Most episodes began with the opening shot of a relaxing Tom being interrupted by his faceless masters giving him an ultimatum to expel the disease-ridden mouse. Mouse Jerry would proceed to maim and maul the dutiful cat in a series of diabolical, yet hilarious, traps designed to humiliate and harm Tom.
My taste for the atypical extended into my reading choices as well. That was most evident in my affection for Shel Silverstein — the cartoonist, poet, and songwriter whose height of fame was in the 70s and 80s. Many of the adults around me were teachers, and they loved to feed my appetite for stories. But they tell me nothing captured my attention with such intensity as Shel Silverstein poems. I would ask for them to be read to over and over. I would study the pictures. I would want to discuss the meaning of them for a long time afterwards.
“Did that man die?”
“ What happened to him after the lion ate him?”
“Can you really sell your little sister? But isn’t that mean?
Shel Silverstein’s poems reflected reality; they were messy, they were mean, and they were also hilarious. What they weren’t was a fantasy meant to sway you. They weren’t trying to sell you something. They weren’t trying to tell you that everything is going to be okay.
They were raw. They were confusing. But more than anything they were a glimpse into the world of possibilities out there. Those poems stretched the boundaries of my imagination. Some of them, yes, they’re scary. But many of them are awe-inspiring, and each possibility is a story waiting to be read. Some small, some bigger than life. And anyway, life is scary sometimes. Life is kinda scary now, actually…
Though now my kids are all teenagers, I found myself reaching for my original copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends today for a glimpse of the absurd to take our mind off reality for a moment.
We always laugh when I read them, as I have a cadence and familiarity with the material which means I turn it into performance art. These poems always make me laugh, and then always make me reflect. I find something new in them each time I read them.
In our search for a distraction from reality, Shel Silverstein is a good as it gets.
I feel like this guy is worthy of adoration, and I’m fortunate to have been exposed to his work so early in my life.
What’s your favorite Silverstein piece of work?
Know any interesting trivia about the man?