08/20/03
Ogden Nash
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

At one time Ogden Nash "was America's most popular and most frequently- quoted contemporary poet". His loyal followers were legion, and his light verse was widely visible in popular magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker. Between 1925 and 1971 he produced no less than twenty volumes of verse, among them, a score of brilliantly humorous children's books. With works such as Custard the Dragon, The Adventures of Isabel, and the seductively titled Parents Keep Out, Nash created a "whimsical, offbeat, yet sophisticated" collection of verse for children.

Recounting the moment he discovered his topsy-turvy writing style, Nash said "In 1929 I tripped over the English language and never regained my balance." He described himself as not so much a "versifier" - as a "worsifier", and delighted in creating nonsense words that somehow made sense, like squushy, rigmarolish, youngerly and snickersnee.

His unbridled verse complemented the befuddling situations they described; where one poem explains the difference between birthdays and un-birthdays; where a child is determined to stay awake long enough to know what it feels like to fall asleep; where woodchucks are found busily chucking wood - and most memorably perhaps - where little girls eat up hungry bears.

Unlike his contemporary, Dr. Seuss, Nash was opposed to children's books that were too easy to read. He purposefully included difficult words in his poems and expected the child would either take the meaning from the context or look the word up. A casual look at some of his otherwise simply stated verse will find words like vizier, expedients, iridescence and mercurochrome. Like Seuss and other successful children's book authors, Nash believed strongly that the most important aspect in writing for children was not to write down to them. And he had the ability to identify the preoccupations and rebellions of childhood. Of little boys he once wrote:

"He knows that walls are made to climb on
To regain your balance just in time on,
And when people shudder and call out, "don't
You will break your neck!" he replies, "I won't."

Ogden Nash was many things; poet, lyricist, screenplay author and ad man. But you could also say Ogden Nash was like his character Abidan from The Animal Garden who "...wasn't a goblin or gnome or elf, Old Abidan, he was just himself."

Sources:

Something About the Author, "Nash, Ogden Frederic, 1902-1971", Volume 46, p.162, 1987.
Something About the Author, "Nash, Ogden Frederic, 1902-1971", Volume 2, p.194, 1971.
The Adventures of Isabel, By Ogden Nash, illustrated by James Marshall, Little Brown and Co., 1991.
A Boy is a Boy: The Fun of Being a Boy, by Ogden Nash, illustrated by Arthur Shilstone, Franklin Watts Inc., 1960.
Custard the Dragon, by Ogden Nash, Illustrated by Linell Nash Smith, Little Brown and Co. 1959.
The New Nutcracker Suite and Other Innocent Verses, by Ogden Nash, illustrated by Ivan Chermayeff, Little Brown and Co., 1962 .

Copyright 2003 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Thursday, 17-Jul-2003 15:43:51 EDT


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