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A poetic tribute to Dr Seuss

Last week saw the 108th birthday of Dr Seuss, the pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991). An American writer of hugely successful books for children, he was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937) introduced Seuss’s iconic visual and verbal style. This was further extended in the ‘Beginner Book’ series, of which The Cat in the Hat (1957) was the first book.

Legend has it that he wrote the best‐selling Green Eggs and Ham (1960) on a bet that he could not write a children’s book using only 50 different words. Perhaps paradoxically, his wild, fluid ‘nonsense’ rhymes and surreal cartoon‐drawings are designed to help children learn the discipline of reading.

The following two poems are imaginary letters written to the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, in a vaguely Seuss-like style, by someone who loves both Dr Seuss and the OED.

i.

Dear Mr. Simpson, editor of the OED
I’m a big fan of your dictionary.
I like it a lot. It’s so orderly.
Alphabetized from abcde
To fghijklmnop
And my favourite bit, qrstuv.

But I don’t like w.
Doesn’t it trouble you?
It worries me, you see.
I’m happy with x, y, and z.
But could you please arrange w’s removal?
If this meets with your gracious approval
I’ll send six pennies and a slice of Brie
By first class post (the usual fee)
Yours sincerely, Alice G. Appleby.

ii.

Dear Mr Simpson. John. (If I may?)
I’m writing in haste. I’ve got something to say.
I’ve made up a word. It’s not one you’ll have heard.
It’s a doozy. A corker. An absolute gem!
As far as words go, it’s the crème de la crème.
When you hear it, you’ll wish you’d coined it yourself.
Astounded, dumbfounded, you’ll run to your shelf.
You’ll look for that word. It’s not one you’ll have heard.

You’ll open your biggest dictionary.
The twenty-volume OED.
You’ll scour its pages. You’ll pore for ages.
You’ll search online. You’ll drink some wine.
You’ll scratch your head. You’ll lose your thread.
You’ll mutter that word you’ve never heard.
A word to make you break into song!
A word to make you sound a loud gong!
I like it a lot, that word I invented.
It should not remain undocumented.
It should not stay unrepresented.

This word (you won’t have heard it yet)
Is the word for the strange feeling you get
Between twenty to seven and quarter to
On a Monday morning at Waterloo
When you wait for your train and it starts to rain
And the train is late so you have to wait
And the train is crammed so you have to stand
Then you see a sweet child take the hand
Of her sweeter mother who gives you a smile
And offers you her child’s seat for a while
She scoops the toddler up on her lap
And you settle down for a ten-minute-nap
But you dream of a date when your train is late
And you have to wait and the train is crammed
So you have to stand and it rains in the train
And you wake in consternation after your station.
My new word describes this very emotion:
It’s ragappoindelajoymenigrotion.

With such a good word you can’t go wrong!
It’s not too short, and not too long!
I like it a lot, that word I invented.
It should not remain undocumented.
Please put it in your dictionary.
Everyone’ll love it. You just wait and see!
Yours sincerely, William Wackham Wintertree.