There’s a joke from the short lived Andy Richter show in which they were staging a revolt against their boss and a woman angrily declares “I’m sick of sporks, spinifes, and knifoons! Its like a Dr. Seuss kitchen in there!” that always struck a chord with me (RIP The Andy Richter Show). Dr. Seuss, beloved by millions of people, is a cornerstone of literacy and children’s literature. His style was such a style and his stories are such stories its really hard not to fall in love with the whole library of (authentic) Dr. Seuss books. There are probably few people in the world that you could walk up to and say “I will not eat green eggs and ham” who will not return “I will not eat them Sam I Am”. So as I continue my crusade to talk about prose in National Poetry Month, lets talk about Dr. Seuss.
Seuss books are a rare blend of poetry and prose; imagery and imagination meet the written word to create the fantastic worlds that generations of children have called the starting point of their reading careers. As a teacher I know all too well the benefits of Seuss style books and words. Predictable texts with compound words—even nonsense words the likes of which Seuss’s style is typified by—help beginner learners gain both confidence and good practice skills and strategies to learning. Nonsense words like wuzzles and snafoozle or kurpuggle (I’m not sure if I made those up or if they are just Seussish) are fun for kids and a great element to the zany and wild worlds held within but I wonder if it wasn’t cheating to rely so heavily on them.
The rhythm of a Dr. Seuss book moves so predictably that I wonder if it wasn’t just a mechanism in play to keep the beat rolling. People may call heresy as I question the genius of the good Doctor, but I only call it into question in relative terms. Yes, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for Walt Whitman but lets take it back a moment. Is it acceptable for, say me, to start making up words in the middle of a rhyme scheme and credit it to the fantasy of my world?
In the snowiest field
I ate a glorious meal
I opened the bean can—of course it was sealed
The heat from the fire I could feel
As I finished my bowl
I dug a hole
And pulled out a gershmergan
Wearing a turban
Perhaps because I have not included a highly stylized picture of a gershmergan you might be confused as to what it is, why it lives in a hole, and why it wears a turban but that’s just my point. I have no problem with invented words—I use them myself in science fiction and also in general conversation with my children and friends—and Shakespeare invented thousands of them, but when Shakespeare did it they were serving the function towards a notion unnamed not a rhyme unmet.
Of course, I can’t knock Seuss’s fantastic structure; the sophisticated tetrameters and iambs are telling of the man Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel, PhD of English Literature. Nor do I mean to diminish the notion of using invented words. I only question its heavy-handed usage. There are parts of Dr. Seuss books that are incredibly subtle with a morality that is simple, elegant, and a disguised undertone. What I do mean to say is, wouldn’t we all be poets if we could just shadinkle the troozlebek?