Shel Silverstein's Every Thing On It
Book review by Monica Friedman
More Poems for Young People from the Master of Silliness
Hooray! Shel Silverstein is back with another collection for kids (and nonsense-minded adults), reprising many of the themes that made previous collections so beloved: surprising reversals of expectations (the monster afraid of kids under his bed, and “The Genie in the Flask” who turns the wish-seeker into its personal slave), extremely horrible manners (“Nasty School” where you learn to “smash a vase to smithereens/How to tear the pages out of someone’s magazines”), things that eat people (“Wild Weed” featuring a kid-eating plant that is too pretty to kill, “Man Eating Plant,” which has already devoured the gardener, and “Going Up, Going Down” in which a “skinny, hungry crocodile” enters a packed elevator), and a regular assortment of dentists, pelicans, mythological creatures, and unskilled athletes.
Book review - Every Thing On It
This book also covers new ground, reflecting ways the world and the author have changed. There are “poo” jokes such as those implied by a scientist curious about elephant tails in “Investigating” or the kid who tries to eat a “Pelican Egg.” There are poems that reflect modern sensibilities. In “Food?” a hapless diner learns of the dangers in his meal—nitrates, cyclamates, pesticides, carcinogens, and other additives—leading to the declaration, “I haven’t eaten for a month and I don’t feel too fine,/But I know that I’ll be healthy for a long, long time.” An angry-looking woman clad from head to toe in animal skins and furs shouts, “Save the Whales,” in the poem “In Her…”.
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Those suspecting that poems are derived just from the possibility of rhyming certain words are vindicated. In “Italian Food” we learn “I love Italian food./I eat it all the time,/Not just ‘cause how good it tastes/But ‘cause how good it rhymes.” In “The Romance” a pelican proposes to an elephant “’Cause there’s no name that rhymes with me/And no one else rhymes with you.” And in “Lizard” the author states “Nothing else much happened, I’m afraid,/But lizard rhymed with blizzard/And blizzard rhymed with gizzard/And that, my dear is why most poems are made.”
Along with the expected serious moments of gravity, love, and grace, this book recognizes of the author’s mortality.
“The Clock Man” discusses the value of time to children, grown-ups, and those at death’s door. “Wall Marks” recounts the differing perspective of child and adult. Lines scratched onto a wall mark a child’s growth, but the child says, “I just don’t understand at all/Just why she cries each time she sees/Those scratchy marks there on the wall.” In “Biography,” life’s short procession is summed up:
First he was born,
And then he was warned,
And then he was taught how to swim,
And then he was married,
And then he was buried,
And that’s all that happened to him.
A number of poems discuss this inevitable trajectory away from childhood and toward mortality, handled with sympathetic but bittersweet humor. These are intertwined with the author’s understanding of his contribution to the literary world and his hope that his work will continue to inspire. In “Writesingtelldraw” he summarizes his canon and concludes: “being as fair as can be,/After all that I’ve writtensungtolddrawn for you,/Won’t you writesingtelldraw one for me?”
At the end of Every Thing On It, Silverstein bids a spiritual farewell to his fans and asks them to celebrate his life in the only way that seems appropriate:
When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter—someone new?
Someone better—maybe YOU!
Book review - Every Thing On It
While it seems unlikely that the poet/writer/singer/artist can ever be replaced, this fourth collection of poems and drawings, Every Thing On It, should continue to inspire.
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