Monday, June 4, 2012

The Most Lovely Otis, Sondheim, and Seuss

Thank you, dear readers,  for your happy responses to my last post.  Here's what happened next with dear Otis:    

Okay, so on my last day with Otis I read my farewell poem aloud (see epic work on previous post) and then--like all pathetic praise-seeking writers, i.e., all writers—sought his face for the glowing grin of approval. 

But there was no grinning. Au contraire, if god had just turned me into a sea horse, he couldn’t have looked an iota more shocked. His mouth was stuck in the shape of an O and so were his unblinking brown eyes. He stared at me, saying nothing. Ohmygod, I thought, I’ve crossed some sort of invisible line and now his mother will have me arrested. Then, even as I was wondering where a gal might find good prosciutto in prison, he spoke.

“How did you do it?” he asked.

Since I couldn’t believe such a question would ever occur to a seven year old--and also since my right ear is dead--I had to make sure I’d heard him correctly.

“How did I do it?” I echoed.

He solemnly nodded and sat back to wait. Weird as it was, I understood then that he genuinely wanted to know, to know how a person—a person he knew to be real because he could see her--had gone about turning a piece of paper into a poem.

A poem, no less, that was all about him. Call me crazy, but, unless you’re interviewing someone on 60 Minutes, the question How did you do it? sounds a lot to me like: How can I do it? and whether or not I’m right about that,  just thinking it was totally thrilled me.

So I told him. I gave him the recipe.  The nuts and the bolts of composing faux-Seussian verse.  Yes, indeed, I explained to Otis:  

1.  How Dr. Seuss likes to rhyme and so I rhymed too.

2.  How Dr. Seuss likes to talk nonsense (a boy, not a moose) (as if you’d ever really confuse the one with the other!) so I did the same.

3.  How Dr. Seuss likes to talk the same nonsense over and over, but with a new twist.  Hence my moose becoming a mule becoming a flea and finally a pup-- but never an aardvark because you can’t rhyme it, and never a dinosaur because the accent goes on the di and not on the saur, which, if you listen--and listen you must----completely throws everything off.

4.  And, oh yeah: how  Dr. Seuss (and every other writer worth reading) takes the time to talk in specifics, hence Green Eggs and Ham and not Just Some Breakfast, ditto Eloise and Ms Frizzle and not Just Some People We Met in Some Books. 

 Naturally, I longed to go on and talk about Sondheim, to explain how he too liked to rhyme words with pup, and did so most effectively in  Losing My Mind, a song from Follies, to wit:

The sun comes up
I think about you
The coffee cup
I think about you 

and how the domestic detail of the coffee cup could wrench the heart right out of one's chest, but his eyes --which were actually still open and on me--were, understandably, starting to glaze.   Anyway, I can always tell him next fall, if he still needs a tutor and if that tutor turns out to be me. For which I of course am crossing all fingers.


  1. This gives me the chills. You MUST be his tutor next fall.

  2. AHA! And now he's hooked, the dear lad. He will now READ and WRITE and understand poetry< and be cooler than 98% of the boys in his world.


  3. That was the sweetest story ever! I participated for a couple of years in the Oregon program Start Making A Reader Today... but I never thought of writing them a poem.

  4. Wow! Now we have to wait for the next installment. Will Otis write poetry? Tune in in the fall...
    A bigger cliffhanger than "Who shot JR?"