Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Ogden Nash Christmas

December 1st
I remember Yule
(:30 second preview)

December 2nd
Christmas Hash
"Tiny reindeer hooves are drumming,
Listen, Santa Clause is coming!
See his tummy bulge and billow!
All her cotton, as she feared...

December 3rd
Poem for the Children's Aid Society of Maryland

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat.
But how about the children, have you taken thought of that?
What about the little boy that lives down the lane,
Ragged in the snowstorm, whistling in the rain?
What about the little girl the other side of town?
There's no one she can run to, and her world is falling down.
Dead father, drunken father, father gone away,
Sick mother, no mother, think of them today.
These are the lost ones, little ones alone.
These too are Maryland, these are our own.
Christmas is coming, and shall they be dismayed?
Send a Merry Christmas check to the Children's Aid.

Nash was a former President and long time board member of the Children's Aid Society.

December 4th
Nutcracker Suite
(:30 second preview)

December 5th
Scrooge Rides Again

Backward, turn backward, O Time, you old ghoul,
Make me a child again just for one Yule;
Reverse, an if please you, the flow of the river,
Let me be a receiver instead of a giver;
Tuck me cozily into a wee trundle bed
As visions of sugarplums dance through my head,
Which would be a superior substitute for
The seasonal nightmare of yore and Dior.
Please provide for this Christmas alternative symbols
To replace Lord and Taylor, and Macy's and Gimbel's;

December 6th
The Three Little Christmas Carols
(Excerpt from The New Yorker 12/22/34)

...And he never pinched any more pennies or skinned any more flints.
So remember, everybody, that you will be gladder but wiser
If you stop being a miser,
And I hope none of us here will have to be haunted by ghosts to remind
us that Christmas is a specially nice time to be alive,
And I wish you all a very merry one, and a very happy 1935.

December 7th
An Untold Adventure of Santa Claus
(:30 second preview)

December 8th
The Miraculous Countdown

Faustus shouted with joy hysterical,
And was then struck dumb as he watched a miracle.
He gazed aghast at his handiwork
As every experiment went berserk.
The bacteria, freed from their mother mold,
Settled down to cure the common cold.
Distant islanders sang Hosanna
As nuclear fall-out turned to manna.
Rockets, missiles and satellite
Formed a flaming legend across the night.
From Cape Canaveral clear to the Isthmus
The monsters spelled out Merry Christmas,
Penitent monsters whose fiery breath
Was rich with hope instead of death.
Faustus, the clumsiest of men,
Had butter-fingered a job again.
I've told you his head was far from level;
He thought he had sold his soul to the devil,
When he'd really sold it, for heaven's sake,
To his guardian angel by mistake.
When geniuses all in every nation
Hasten us towards obliteration,
Perhaps it will take the dolts and geese
To drag us backward into peace.

December 9th
Christmas Card

December 10th
The Abominable Snowman

I’ve never seen an abominable snowman,
I’m hoping not to see one,
I’m also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.

December 11th
I'm a Pleasure to Shop For
(:30 second preview)

December 12th
Poem for the Children's Aid Society of Maryland

Tonight's December thirty-first
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small.
Like a time bomb in the wall.
Midnight whistles, loud and clear.
Duck! Here comes another year.

P.S. It's not their fault, but just their luck,
Some children have no place to duck.
That is why this plea is made;
Remember, please, the Children's Aid.

December 13th
December New England Coast

...Gloomy and damp the dark sky overhangs,
Mirrored below upon the shifting waves.
Rejoicing as they bare their whitecap fangs
Snapping at every lonely gull who braves
Their dripping jaws upon his wheeling course,
And shrieks disdainful at their measured force...

Written as a student at St. Georges, Middletown, RI

December 14th
Carnival of the Animals


Camille Saint-Saens
Was wracked with pains,
When people addressed him,
As Saint-Saens.
He held the human race to blame,
Because it could not pronounce his name,
So, he turned with metronome and fife,
To glorify other kinds of life,
Be quiet please - for here begins
His salute to feathers, fur and fins.

'Carnival of the Animals' is a perennial choice for Christmas concerts. See an interactive exhibit of this work here.

December 15th
The Christmas That Almost Wasn't
(:30 second audio preview)

December 16th

"People can’t concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December." ~Ogden Nash

December 17th
The Unpublished Adventures of Santa Claus
(Page 1 of 14 page poem in Family Circle magazine.)

December 18th
Christmas Glass

December 19th
Santa Go Home

December 20th
Christmas Card

December 21st
I'll eat my Split Level Turkey in the Breezeway

A lady I know disapproves of the vulgarization of Christmas; she believes that Christmas should be governed purely by spiritual and romantic laws;
She says all she wants for Christmas is no more suggestive songs about Santa Claus.
Myself, I am more greedy if less cuddle-y.
And being of '02 vintage I am perforce greedy fuddy duddily,
So my own Christmas could be made glad
Less by the donation of anything new than just by the return of a few things I once had.

December 22nd
The Boy who Laughed at Santa Claus (:30 second preview)

Listen to a recent NPR story about this poem here

December 23rd
All's Noel that Ends Noel
Or, Incompatibility is the Spice of Christmas
(Excerpt from The New Yorker 12/14/57)

Do you know Mrs. Millard Fillmore Revere?
On her calendar, Christmas comes three hundred and sixty-five times a year.
Consider Mrs. Revere's Christmas spirit; no one can match it -
No, not Tiny Tim or big Bob Cratchit.
Even on December 26th it reveals no rifts;
She is already compiling her lists of next year's gifts.

December 24th
A Carol for Children
(:30 second audio preview)

First verses:

A Carol for Children

Last Verses:

Only the children clasp His hand;
His voice speaks low to them,
And still for them the shining band
Wings over Bethlehem.

God rest you merry, Innocents,
While innocence endures,
A sweeter Christmas than we to ours
May you bequeath to yours.


"Merry Christmas Nearly Everybody!" ~ Ogden Nash

All Poems Copyright © by Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Celebrating With a Few Good Words

Where does a poet go when they die? Do they write new verses in the clouds? Or do they just enjoy watching their old ones take flight?

For the last 39 years Ogden Nash has probably been doing both. On his birthday many took the time to remind Mr. Nash that they adore him. Introducing others to his poetic magic, some artistic souls celebrated the comedy, otherwise known as life, that was Nash's passion:

The Smithsonian Institute's National Portrait Gallery blog shared a portrait of the poet and a review of his work by Warren Perry. If your looking for a more expansive review check out Erin Overby in the New Yorker.

Greenwich Village's Cornelia Street Cafe staged a collaborative musical performance featuring several local artists. The Manhattan neighborhood was no doubt well known to Nash as the New Yorker's original offices were not far.

The venerable North Hampton NH library created an exhibit for their long time summer resident. Several residents stopped in to see Nash family photos and recalled the wonderful parties at the Nash house.

The Baltimore edition of Reading Local gave tribute to their home town poet with a snippet of his summer verse:

From “Pretty Halcyon Days”:

How pleasant to sit on the beach,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun,
With ocean galore within reach,
And nothing at all to be done!

Ira Tucker remembered Nash's birthday by taking a picture of a North Carolina water lily and captioning it " He without benefit of scruples....His fun and money soon quadruples."

Chicago mystery writer Julia Buckley is especially fond of the 1940 poem "Don't Guess, Let Me Tell You" where Nash satirizes the crime novelists of the "Had I but Known School." She also notes "Nash was always playful, but sometimes in a pessimistic way; he started his poem "A Bas Ben Adhem" with

"My fellow man I do not care for.
I often ask me, What's he there for?"

Robert Merkin traveled from MA to Ontario to see "A Touch of Venus" at the Shaw Festival. The show runs through October 10th. He shared these thoughts which seem to illustrate that Nash knew much about romance in the human race he continually lampooned:

"It's a dirty, off-color, naughty little show -- Perelman wrote Marx Brothers' movies, and Broadway had no Hayes Office to censor or restrain him -- just one jalapeƱo after another, a string of cheap Macau firecrackers. The mechanics and equipment of actual human reproduction are often clearly referred to in Nash's lyrics and the dialogue. (The barber Venus falls in love with has a Murphy bed, and as it magically descends to the floor, she enthusiastically approves.)

I can't describe the thrill of hearing "Speak Low" sung and harmonized, Venus and Brooklyn barber, in its intended setting and Weill's original orchestration. The orchestra gave it a driving bass vamp -- a bit of a tango beat -- which subsequent jazz covers ignore, but it works on the
Broadway stage circa 1943.

The whole thing is a French farce, with the wrong people ducking in and out of windows and closet doors and hiding under the Murphy bed -- well, it has the manic panic of a Marx Brothers movie, a pretty funny one at that. Much of its look and flavor and feel is from the same factory that cranked out "Guys and Dolls." The dances were by Agnes DeMille, straight from "Oklahoma!" -- so it's punctuated with Dream Dances to advance and illuminate the real-life narrative.

As you'd expect from re-animating a statue of Venus, the whole show is about Romantic Love, and it's wholeheartedly in favor of it, mess, pain, torment, grief and all.

Poor foolish heart
Crying for one who ignores you
Poor foolish heart
Flying from one who adores you

After the barber impulsively puts his fiancee's engagement ring on the statue's finger, and then rejects the goddess' advances, she laments to the audience

You see here before you
a woman with a mission
I must discover
the key to his ignition
and if he should make
a diplomatic proposition
how could I possibly refuse?
when I'm a stranger here myself

Well, look -- I just had the damnedest time. I've loved these songs for maybe a half-century, and I finally got to see them in their Delivery Room.

Of Nash -- well, you win, it's Genius by a Knockout, his poems are a perfect marriage of fun, jokes, puns, wit, syncopation -- and True Romance. You got to hum Weill's tunes as you leave the theater, and Nash's lyrics just make these exquisite, sometimes ethereal melodies burst into gorgeous, funny, beautiful flowers."

On Nash's birthday lyrics burst into flowers and water lily's became verse.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ogden Nash on Parent - Kid Relations

In honor of Ogden Nash's 108th birthaversary, here is the non-rhyming, yet very funny introduction to Parents Keep Out. Subtitled 'Elderly Poems for Youngerly Readers. A 49 year old Nash writes how delighted he is to discover that kids can relate to his poems - the ones written about the foibles of the adult world. Nash muses that perhaps the way to bridge the great inter-generational communication divide is for parents to laugh at themselves in front of their children.


Since parents can't keep out of anything, I resignedly

address these words to them. Many parents will find that

they have read some of the verses in previous books of

mine. I shall not apologize. Anybody who has read previous

books of mine is a trespasser in this one, which has been

compiled for a younger generation. I do not regard it as a

children's book, however; I simply hope it is a book that

anyone born less than fourteen or fifteen years ago may

enjoy. I have written a lot of verses about children, but

they are of no interest to children, as they were written for

parents; on the other hand I have been pleased to discover

that some of the pieces dealing with the aberrations

and anomalies of the adult world have found favor here

and there among the kids. This makes me very proud;

indeed at such times I feel like the cryptographer who has

cracked the code, or the first man to reach the moon,

because, in my experience, full communication between the

generations simply doesn't exist. There is a curtain between

the mind of the child and the mind of the parent

as opaque as any between the mind of the Occidental and

the mind of the Russian or the Chinese. Words may be

interchanged, but they do not mean the same thing to one

as to the other; the language is purely diplomatic - or

undiplomatic - and the final understanding

is about equal to that achieved by diplomats.

Of course it may be that if the kids do

like any of these verses it is for the very reason that

the Kremlin is gratified by any sign of the collapse of

capitalism; watchful young eyes may here perceive indications

of the breakup of the old people's world. Nevertheless,

flushed by a few minor successes among my juniors, I have

risked hastening the revolution by gathering for them from

my past this potpourri of foolish jokes, anecdotes, fables,

and other trivia, embellished with rhymes and conclusions

both true and false. Perhaps for the very reason that this

particular collection is not calculated, dear parents who

have not kept out, to present us as the omniscient and

infallible paragons they think we think we are, it may

persuade our young to treat us more gently when they

take over. God willing, it may even persuade a

disreputable handful that they are as silly as we.

O. N.

Copyright © by Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pondering The Jellyfish

My son just returned from surfing camp in Florida. He brought back stories of encounters with dolphins and Portuguese Man o' Wars. As well as a few garden variety jellyfish stings on his toes.

I showed him and my other two little ones Nash's 'The Jellyfish' and asked them if they could memorize the seven word poem. Predictably my oldest finished first. However, their varied interpretations on the poem's meaning were unexpected.

The Jellyfish

Who wants my jellyfish?

I'm not sellyfish!

I thought this was just a simple summer ode to a one dimensional creature. However, my 11 year old recited it back "I'm not shellyfish" A reading which surprisingly borders on making sense zoologically.

My 7 year old interpreted 'sellyfish' as I did: a play on 'selfish'. As in: 'Out of altruism I bequeath you this stinging blob.'

My wife perceived that Nash meant he would not venture to 'sell-yfish' his jellyfish for financial gain.

While my four year maintained his silence with a far away gaze. Perhaps he was dreaming about peanut butter and jellyfish sandwiches.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ogden Nash’s Tax Reform Proposal

"Solomon said, stay with me apples, for I am sick with l’amour,
But I say, Comfort me with flagons, for I am sick with rich people
talking and acting poor..."

Thus opens This One Is On Me, Ogden Nash's proposal for leveling the economic playing field for the not-so-rich. Nash proposes that the affluent host parties for those who work and pay taxes but have been unable to accumulate wealth. This is only fair considering that the rich “haven’t paid income tax since 1929.”

If you waited until yesterday's deadline to file your taxes, perhaps you did so because you owed money. You may take solace in the full poem from the New Yorker:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ogden Nash from Mid-Century to Today

Are Ogden Nash's poems relevant in 2010?

Half a century after Ogden Nash’s popularity has peaked it’s fair to ask if Nash’s work maintains any salience to a seemingly vastly transformed world. Nash's celebrity status, earned by the wit of his pen and years of often grueling lecture tours, fostered popularity for his works while he was alive. Recent artistic works and contemporary blogular discourse say a lot about the influence of his work today:

“Does anyone read Ogden Nash any more?” When North-port, MI bookstore owner P.J. Grath was asked this, she replied with arch dignity “Some of us grew up on Ogden Nash, and he is very important to us!” To understand her questioner’s indifference to F.O.N. she later posited that perhaps you had to discover Nash as a child to love his work as an adult. P.J. cites Nash’s “captivating, easily memorized little animal verses” such as the The Pig and The Canary as a reason to be a Nash admirer.

In a recent review of the 2002 ‘Poetry Speaks to Children’ the author claims that it’s the elements of rhyme, rhythm, fun and occasional mischief that makes poetry endearing to children. As Illustration of this we are given Nash's tale of the brave little Isabel, who “didn’t worry, didn’t scream or scurry” when confronted with a ravenous bear, a one-eyed giant or a troublesome doctor. Her clever solutions to problems (“She turned the witch into milk and drank her”)

There's a certain plausibility to the importance of youthful exposure in order to build a life-long affection. On the other hand, in the 1920's and 30's not one of Nash's millions of fans had read him as a child. Can contemporary adults without previous contact find Nash interesting when reading him for the first time?

Grown ups like Natalie Merchant and Neil Gaiman are quite fond of Nash. Gaiman is the best-selling author of the ‘light horror’ book ‘Coraline’ which was later made into an ’09 award winning animated film. In a recent CBS TV interview, he credits Nash for a profound influence on his writing:

“What do you think your attraction to the dark side of things is?"

"I think the thing that crystallized it for me, the moment that I actually understood it for myself, was a quote from Ogden Nash, the great American poet and humorist, where he said, 'Where there's a monster, there's a miracle…And I realized that, for me, is the joy of the monstrous. It's the joy of ghosts, fiction, joy of vampires. It's the miraculous."

Musical artist Natalie Merchant will soon release "Leave Your Sleep" as her first studio music in 7 years. The two disc set adapts poetry from many 19th and 20th century poets such as Ogden Nash and light verse pioneer Edward Lear into song. The album includes an 80-page booklet featuring extensive liner notes by Merchant as well as the original poems.

“Leave Your Sleep is the most elaborate project I have ever completed or even imagined. Nearly seven years ago I set out to create a piece of work I hoped could capture the universal experience of childhood through poetry and music. ”

Delmar, CA author Robert Lundy, transformed his therapeutic interest in Nash into a wellspring for a book and exhibit. Summation 2009-10: The Merging of Art and Poetry” is his book based on an exhibition installed at the Escondido Municipal Art Gallery last December. It contains reproductions of the work of 37 artists and the words of 20 poets.

While enduring the death of his mother and his wife, Lundy rediscovered the therapeutic power of reading and writing poetry.

"I was looking for things to get involved in, and since I'd always liked poetry, I decided to form a poetry club with a friend of mine...I brought along Ogden Nash works and read him, then I started writing my own work." The library based club brought in a poetry director, Williams, to facilitate writing seminars with the group. Due to budget cuts, the library canceled the program after a year, but Lundy and Williams remained friends.

"That's when I really started writing a lot of poetry," Lundy recalled. "Elizabeth would invite me for dinner and say, 'OK, no food until you have written a poem.' It was amazing the number of poems I wrote about food during that time."

Baron Bodissey generally designates Saturday as either his Ranting Day or Poetry Day, depending on his mood and the news of the week, in his blog Gates of Vienna. Having recently having “used up most of my supplies of rant" he decided to "feature light verse while I replenish my stores of invective.”

Bodissey's difficultly in finding his favorite Nash poem, remembered from long ago, inspired him to embark on a quest because Nash’s “most famous examples were very brief eponymous vignettes about animals, but he wrote many other poems which never escaped into fame, and now reside only in dusty old volumes that can be quite difficult to find."

"By the time the internet came along, his aficionados had become so few that many of his lesser-known poems are unavailable on the web. The oeuvre of Ludacris or the philosophical ramblings of Eminem are easy to locate in their entirety, but not the poems of Ogden Nash." But not Boddisey's favorite verse about lawyers.

"I discovered this unfortunate fact last year when I went looking for two of my favorites. They are now obscure, and no amount of googling turned up complete and reliable versions. So I went off to the library the other day and borrowed Verses From 1929 On — which had probably lain untouched on the same shelf since the last time I needed it, fifteen or twenty years ago."

"Finding the poems in question proved a formidable task. None of his books has an index of first lines, and any given title bears only the most tenuous of connections to the poem itself. I had to page through the table of contents four times before I finally found both poems I was looking for."

"The poem below cried out to be posted quickly, because in a year or two — assuming the economic crisis follows its expected course — his stanzas will no longer be funny. By then they will be too true. Here is Ogden Nash ruminating about Professional Men.” He then posts the poem I Yield to My Learned Brother or Is There a Candlestick Maker in the House?

Have you been impacted by the looming tomato shortage? The India's Economic Times alludes to Nash’s ode to catsup as to how the cycle might play out:

“ Thousands of miles away in the US there are burgers, bologneses (sic) and pizzas crying out for a slice of the action. Thanks to a chill in Florida, the supply of fresh tomatoes in the US has got so squished that fast-food chains and restaurants alike have started skimping on the tart vegetable and providing it only on order as prices have trebled. Matters have come to such a pass as 70% of the Florida tomato crop has failed, leaving producers $300 million in the red. Of course, this squeeze — the worst since 1989 — will not last long as harvests from other areas like Mexico and California will soon ketch-up. “ Shake and shake the ketchup bottle/First none will come and then a lot’ll ...?

Can a bookseller, a reporter, a famous musician, a crusader lampooning injustice, a bestselling writer and a niche poet offer a barometer for the salience of Ogden Nash in the 21st Century?

There's no doubt that Nash's poems resonate for many people. Some even celebrate his artistry by creating new works from his poetry. However, many more people have either never discovered his work or have and were unimpressed. Nevertheless, for over 40 years Ogden Nash attained a popularity that was unheard of for a poet in modern times.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mr. Ballantine's Valentine by Ogden Nash

The Strange Case of Mr. Ballantine's Valentine

Once upon a time there was an attorney named Mr. Ballantine.
He lived in the spacious gracious days of the nineteenth century.
Mr. Ballantine didn't know they were spacious and gracious.
He thought they were terrible.
The reason he thought they were terrible was that love had passed him by.
Mr. Ballantine had never received a valentine.
He said to his partner, My name is Mr. Ballantine and I have never received a valentine.
His partner said, Well my name is Mr. Bogardus and I have received plenty of valentines and I just as soon wouldn't.
He said Mr. Ballantine didn't know when he was well off.
Mr. Ballantine said, I know my heart, I know my mind, I know I long for a valentine.
He said here it was St. Valentine's day and when he sat down at his desk what did he find?
I find affidavits, said Mr. Ballantine.
That's the kind of valentine I get, said Mr. Ballantine.
Mr. Bogardus said that affidavit was better than no bread.
Mr. Ballantine said that affidavit, affidavit, affidavit onward, into the valley of death rode the six hundred.
Mr. Bogardus said that any many who would rhyme "onward" with "six hundred" didn't deserve any affidavits at all.
Mr. Ballantine said coldly that he was an attorney, not a poet, and Mr. Bogardus had better take the matter up directly with Lord Tennyson.
Mr. Bogardus said Oh all right, and speaking of lords, he couldn't remember who was the king before David, but Solomon was the king affidavit.
Mr. Ballantine buried Mr. Bogardus in the cellar and went out in search of love.
Towards evening he encountered a maiden named Herculena, the Strongest Woman in the World.
He said, Madam my name is Mr. Ballantine and I have never received a valentine.
Herculena was delighted.
She said, My name is Herculena the Strongest Woman in the World, and I have never received a valentine either.
Mr. Ballantine and Herculena decided to be each other's valentine.
All was merry as a marriage bell.
Mr. Ballantine nearly burst with joy.
Herculena nearly burst with pride.
She flexed her biceps.
She asked Mr. Ballantine to pinch her muscle.
Mr. Ballantine recovered consciousness just in time to observe the vernal equinox.
He thought she said bustle.

Copyright © by Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt.

Published in 1938, Samantha posted this wonderful Nash verse on her blog, Perched in the Search . She discovered the poem in "I'm a Stranger here Myself" which was cherished by her grandparents and handed down to her.

I'm grateful to Renne for the suggestion to include it in my Og Blog. ( Nickname courtesy of Darryl Rehr)

If you'd like to learn more about Ogden Nash's lifelong valentine read 'Loving Letters from Ogden Nash'.

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