All-Literative April: Sunday Morning Poetry – Shel Silverstein

Every Sunday morning this month, I will be posting a recording of me reading a poem I really like as part of truespies’ All-Literative April.

As an added bonus, I will be running that recording through the remaining time I have on my Microsoft Songsmith trial.


Starting off with a short one:

“Helping”, from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.

And the alternapop version.


My third grade teacher would read to us every day after lunch. The two that stuck with me are Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, both of which had a profound influence on my approaches to poetry and fantasy.

The orneriness in Silverstein’s writing ensured that I would never take something too seriously just because it was in verse form or rhymed. Poets (and songwriters – Hi, The Kinks!) could be joking in their writing, even if they weren’t obviously winking at you. Every now and again I need to be reminded of this.

His subject matter was mind-blowing to a third grader (a character who was afraid of the dark and asked you not to close the book on him? WHAT WAS UP WITH THAT?), and as I got older and discovered that he had written for Playboy…well…

I’m fairly certain this poem had an effect on me as a child, as well:

The Battle

Would you like to hear
Of the terrible night
When I bravely fought the -
No?
All right.

Anyone who tells a story should be so willing to stop it if the listener is uninterested (this is your cue to click on a link or close the window or turn the page because the following has nothing to do with Silverstein).

With Lewis – stodgy old white British chauvinist racist apologist Anglican that he may be, the man indiscriminately blended his literary influences together without regard for sense – and he made them all fit together. A fairy-tale witch, Father Christmas (arming children! For battle!), a Christ-figure lion, English schoolchildren, mythical creatures (Bacchus and company show up! In a children’s book!), these all exist together because they’re in the same book. There’s no thought for politics or economics or “reality”, and that makes the world all the more vivid for it. Sure, the Pevensies are insufferable (but whose siblings aren’t, in one way or another?), and it’s imperialistic (the Sons of Adam and Daugthers of Eve have a divine mandate to rule over this land in which they are accidental visitors and saviors – “Come through the Wardrobe and Help Us”).

But those characteristics don’t take away from the wonder and the sheer sense of possibility Lewis ascribes to ordinary objects when Lucy first feels the fur coats give way to snow-covered pine branches and then sees, in the distance, a light-post in the middle of a forest.