“I think in terms of rhyme, and have since I was six years old.”
These are the words of Ogden Nash, the matchless writer of “light verse.” Equal parts poet, comedian, social commentator, and Baltimore Colts enthusiast, Nash carved out a niche in penning witty, pun-filled, and easy poetry.
Nash often used animals as the subject matter of his musings, and created poems filled with absurdities, intentional misspellings, and odd juxtapositions. Sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes silly for the sake silliness, Nash’s poems are always a fun read. Consider his poem, “Bankers are Just Like Anybody Else, Except Richer,” a piece of social commentary written to the bankers of the day, Nash writes, in part:
Yes, if they request fifty dollars to pay for a baby you must
look at them like Tarzan looking at an uppity ape in the jungle
And tell them what do they think a bank is, anyhow, they had
better go get the money from their wife’s aunt or ungle.
By use of animal imagery, Nash personifies the banker as Tarzan putting an animal (although a noble one) in its proper place. Notice Nash’s forced perfect rhyme, how he misspells “uncle” to achieve the desired result.
At times, though, Nash’s poems were less-pointed and bereft of social commentary. Consider Nash’s poem, “Custard the Dragon,” in which he tells the tale of the miniaturized and cowardly pet dragon. Of Custard, he writes:
Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.
The tale continues, and in the end, Custard finding the nerve to take down a dreaded scalawag pirate. Though there is no broader social commentary in the piece, the poem is meant to inspire and teach the value of courage. And inspire it did. Years later, Nash’s poem about Custard would prompt Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow to write “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” a song made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary.
Nash’s poetry lives on today, and is enjoyed by children and adults alike. His poems are proof: a little light verse can go a long way.
Poetry Prompt: This week we’re playing with light verse. Write an easy-reading, light piece of rhyming poetry about dragons or other mythical creatures. It may include broader social commentary, or may be silly for the sake of silliness. Either way, share your light verse with us.
Tweetspeak’s April Dragons and Creatures Poetry Prompt:
This month’s poetry theme at Tweetspeak is Dragons and Creatures, and we’ll be composing epic poems. I’m sure of it. How do you participate?
1. Pick a creature…any creature. Need some ideas? Check out this complete list of mythical creatures. Or listen to our very own Dragons and Creatures playlist.
2. Compose your own poem about a dragon or creature.
3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #TSCreatures hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
4. If you aren’t a Twitter user, leave your poem here in the comment box.
5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a poem to feature in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
Last week, Maureen Doallas offered us a selection from her book, Neruda’s Memoirs. In “Thoughts Upon Seeing Alice in 3D,” she plays with nonsense poetry, using some of Lewis Carroll’s words from “Jabberwocky.”
No doubt you
have some special talent
In my dreams. Not everyone,
after all, is born
With such a figment
for suspended animation
As you, so head o’er heels,
gyre and gimble in the wabe
Of whiffling tulgey wood and
Visit Maureen’s place for the full poem. Now, share a little fire-breathing light verse with us. Who’s first?