105 Ways to Give a Book

Poetry Friday: My Dog May Be a Genius

My Dog May Be a GeniusJack Prelutsky is really milking this Children’s Poet Laureate thing for all it’s worth, don’t ya think? His new collection of poems, My Dog May Be a Genius has his new title and signature above the title. In fact the title looks like an afterthought. There’s also a big gold sticker from the Poetry Foundation on the book.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy about the book. I’m not a big fan of nonsense poetry. I like the Shel Silverstein books as an exception, but I didn’t like his oldest (but now newest) book, Don’t Bump the Glump! for the same reason. It’s just wacky.

There’s an improv concept that everyone wants the sketch of the chicken in the bowling alley, but it’s actually harder to come up with something clever for the man in the office. The crazy jutxaposition of the elements is the joke, rather than the artist — improv or poet — adding insight and humor to the situation. So is the poem then funny or clever on its own merit, or is it more about thinking of the original oddity?

In this book, there aren’t enough of the more “normal” poems in the collection to keep it from going over the top. And when there is a nice, almost moving poem about having a place to go to inside yourself, it’s followed by “Burt the Burper,” which ruins the mood. But that’s probably the point. The only poem I really liked is the title poem. It’s more about an everyday thing. It also hits on an personal note, since I can’t understand anything that people spell.
My dog may be a genius,
and in fact, there’s little doubt.
He recognizes many words,
unless I spell them out.
If I so much as whisper “walk,”
he hurries off at once
to fetch his leash... it’s evident
my dog is not a dunce.

I can’t say “food” in front of him,
I spell f-o-o-d,
and he goes wild unless I spell
his t-r-e-a-t.
But recently this tactic
isn’t working out too well.
I think my d-o-g has learned
to s-p-e-l-l.
I know lots of people will like this book for its absurdity, and that’s okay. I just wish Prelutsky had taken the opportunity of his title and his talent to mix in a few more subtle poems and introduce children to a greater range of expression.

The Poetry Friday round-up is over at Two Writing Teachers.

4 comments:

Kelly Fineman said...

I usually wish that Prelutsky would use his talent to make better poems for kids (as he did in his collection of haiku a few years ago, If Not for the Cat, which remains my favorite Prelutsky book by miles). He's one of the only contemporary poets routinely stocked in bookstores, along with Bruce Lansky and Alan Katz. You'd think, based on that, that the entire world of children's poetry is parodies and nonsense. And it's so not true. Like you, I wish he'd have used his position to get some more serious respect and attention for the excellence that exists in children's poetry, rather than using it to sell another book of silliness. Not that I'm opposed to being silly. I just resent the steady diet of silly being pushed by the big box bookstores.

Elaine Magliaro said...

I'm with you and Kelly on this one. I would like to see more variety in the books of poetry he publishes. I was also disappointed that he didn't highlight the work of more than a poet or two at the website of the Poetry Foundation. I thought that was one of the things he had planned to do as Children's Poet Laureate. He missed a wonderful opportunity to call people's attention to the many different poets who have written/are writing exceptional poetry for children.

david elzey said...

Isn't his laureateship up already, shouldn't we be moving on to someone else? Or was the Poetry Foundation so underwhelmed by his efforts they decided to let the thing slip quietly into oblivion while his publishers continue to milk the cash cow?

Unfortunately, silly sells, but that doesn't mean that all silly poems are good. I couldn't outline those standards, but I know 'em when I smell 'em, and Prelutsky has a fifty-fifty chance of being either just ripe or rank.

I still want to know where all the women writing silly poems are; shouldn't there be someone of equal merit to Jack P. out there? Why do we always see the same male names when it comes to silly poetry?

Just askin'.

Mary Lee said...

I had to put my Shel Silverstein books in my closet years ago because his were the only poetry books my students would choose. And when we started Poetry Fridays this school year, this group tended toward Prelutsky and the "You read to me, I'll read to you" series. Constant exposure to variety over time has worked magic. Now they actively choose Douglas Florian, Sara Holbrook, Jon Scieszka (Science Verse), and J. Patrick Lewis. Poetry Friday. It's a little thing (30 minutes a week) that turned out to be HUGE.