Sunday, February 2, 2014


People (most of them) think children's verse is Dr. Seuss, full stop. Pre-pub'd and pub'd authors would submit (when we took unsolicited submissions, namely always until a few months back) Dr. Seuss-style silly verses at a rate of, let's say, a dozen a week. Every week. All year long. We bet most of these writers do not know where they got their sense of rhythm and rhyme and do not know that they are mimicking. They may even think the singsongy galloping quality in their verse is simply the universal sound of kids' rhymes.

It is.

But do not try it.

Why? You will not best Dr. Seuss. And that is how we see these manuscripts, as ill-advised competition. Dr. Seuss was original and a grand mater. And he illustrated his books, so his vision of silliness exists as a thorough integration of word and pictures. His oeuvre is large, and Random House keeps his book line bright and fresh. One Dr. Seuss is plenty.

The second stanza of THE CAT IN THE HAT, the last two lines, display the ubiquitous quintessential Dr. Seuss sound

I sat there with Sally.
We sat there, we two.
And I said, "How I wish
We had something to do!"

The meter is ANAPAEST, two short or unaccented syllables followed by a long or stressed syllable. Anapaest makes a lively platform for humorous verse— LIMERICKS are written in Anapest—and its structure presents rhyme well.

An "adult poem" might be easier to hear. Listen to the anapest in Tennyson, whose poem nearly sings.

There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life my fate;
The red rose cries, "She is near, she is near;
And the white rose weeps, "She is late";
The larkspur listens, "I hear, I hear";
And the lilly whispers, "I wait."

We do not recommend writing in a single meter. You lose the textured sound and meaning possible when you mix in some IAMBIC (one un-stressed, then one stressed syllable) or a potent little SPONDEE (two stressed syllables: never is a Spondee). His rhythms, rhymes, and cadences make Dr. Seuss's verse compelling. The fact that he is copied unknowingly testifies to that.

Much more can said on this topic, but we will venture only this advice on word choice. Eschew tired words and tired rhymes! No excitement results from rhyming play with day or sun with fun. These are deadweight hackneyed rhymes: they suck energy from your verse and dull your readers' engagement.These couplings are too, too familiar: they do not emit f-u-n. Part of the work of a poet is to make fresh rhymes. Look at Jack Perlutsky and Shel Silverstein—both, just like Dr. Seuss, make up rhyme words all the time. The goal is lively rhymes.

Now, of course Rhyme is a bigger topic than this little lesson. And we are not experts, either, just perceptive, we hope, readers and writers who learn as we go.

Next time, maybe we will write about the trials of the COUPLET, to writer and reader.

Questions? Comments?

p.s. Think Reader is a slogan to tape to your keyboard.

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