October 8, 2021

Monsters and Aliens - Poetry

         I decided to have a look at modern sci fi and fantasy poetry for children, and although my definition of “modern” is pretty broad (say, the past 60 years or so), it became evident that the subject matter has a narrower focus than I originally planned.  So much of fantasy poetry written for children is about creatures that for this post I focussed in on that.  And even within the poetry about creatures, I discovered that it’s almost entirely about monsters.  From Roald Dahl to Shel Silverstein to Jack Prelutsky, poets seem to be convinced that the way to a child’s heart is jocular horror.  Prelutsky wrote an entire book of poems about imaginary aliens from imaginary planets, and almost every single one of the poems tells how these aliens will slaughter you, or how you will die on that planet.  So much for the wonders of space exploration!
        But while there is no doubt that many children do enjoy such poems, I tend to prefer a wider range of marvels, inspiring delight as well as fear.  So I have a few poems for you today that introduce a variety of creatures.  First is one of Prelutsky’s few aliens that is not directly murderous.  Still horror, perhaps, but not actually violent.  (You can click on the picture to make it large enough to read the poem.)  I do like that the vocabulary and syntax in this poem are quite sophisticated and don’t talk down to children, and that it revels in dramatic sound, 
with rhythm, rhyme and other poetic stylings reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe.
        Next, another slightly dangerous monster, quickly dealt with in a very different style of poem, by Lilian Moore.  This one is more Ogden-Nash-esque, with its witty one-liner.
        I have to include one creature today that’s actually helpful and friendly, so here’s The Giraft by Jane Yolen.

If you’re out in the ocean, afloat on the deep,

With the sharks making straight for your craft,

Simply close your eyes tightly and whistle a shrill

S.O.S. for the nearest Giraft.

If you plan to be going away on a cruise

And you find your lifeboats understaffed,

Do not give it a thought, simply whistle a tune

That will call on the nearest Giraft.

For they sail very swiftly, can outpace a sub,

And their periscope necks fore and aft

Let them keep a sharp eye on the ocean so no

One can sneak up behind a Giraft.

I have rowed many miles and sailed quite a few,

And on none of those trips have I laughed,

For my travels all filled me with fear and with dread

Till I learned of the friendly Giraft.

        Since I like my creatures marvelous, I also have to include one by Dr. Seuss, although it’s perhaps a stretch to call his poems “modern.”  Nevertheless, he’s got plenty of fun beasties to choose from, and while some are ferocious, most are simply strange and silly rather than frightening.  This is an excerpt from If I Ran the Circus, which includes dozens of fantastical creatures.

And you’ll now meet the Foon!  The Remarkable Foon

Who eats sizzling hot pebbles that fall off the moon!

And the reason he likes them red hot, it appears,

Is he greatly enjoys blowing smoke from his ears.

        I shall conclude with a deadly monster from the swamps of Sleethe, to represent the common sort of screams-for-laughs poem.  After all, we are beginning to get into the season of Hallowe’en.  (For a couple more monsters, follow the links to Dahl and Silverstein above.)  It’s certainly a poem that takes exuberant delight in its own horror, and I like its eloquence.
        That’s plenty of creatures and plenty of poems for one post.  Which is your favorite?

[Pictures and Poems: The Beholder in the Silence, poem by Jack Prelutsky, illustration by Jimmy Pickering from The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from beyond the solar system, 2009;

Johnny Drew a Monster, poem by Lilian Moore 1972, illustration by Kevin Hawkes 1998, from Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was, selected by Prelutsky;

The Giraft, poem by Jane Yolen, 1994;

The Foon, poem and illustration by Dr. Seuss from If I Ran the Circus, 1956;

The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from beyond the solar system, by Prelutsky, illustration by Pickering, 2009.]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

It's a draw between Johnny Drew a Monster and The Giraft, both are monstrous, leave someting up to imagination, and are scary-licious. Dr. Seuss I think is an acquired taste, and I did not grow up with his poems (not being an English speaker). I'll have to try and read more of what he wrote, as I think he might grow on me. I do not like the two space-monster ones. They make my head swirl with thoughts of bleak eternities and galaxies.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

The thing about Dr. Seuss is that he wrote a TON of books for different ages and reading levels, and in a variety of different styles. Some I absolutely love, while others I can happily do without. But yes, there are also definitely some that I love because of the nostalgia of having enjoyed them as a child. Still, I think you might find some you like, even while you almost certainly won't like all of them.