Confessions from the man who single-handedly destroyed poetry as we know it!
It's not often we see the true impact of our lives. After all, human lives are immensely complex. To track the outcomes of all the little things we do in life—the cheerful greeting we gave to a sick neighbor, the angry motorist we cut off during rush hour traffic—would be impossible. Still, if life has taught me anything it is that the universe has a strange sense of humor. And so it was that a few months ago I learned the true impact of my life:
I’ve single handedly destroyed poetry as we know it!
First, a little background. In the late 1990s I returned from two years service in the Peace Corps with a need to do what do many human do, which was find a job so I wouldn't starve to death. I eventually landed an editorial position at a small commercial book publisher called Meadowbrook Press. As often happens with editors, I blossomed forth and soon became an older editor, overseeing a number of books for young adults and children, including a fiction line for kids and our press’s giggle poetry books.
The catch, though, was that at Meadowbrook Press we only occasionally dipped into the literary leanings of Silverstein and Prelutsky. This is because early on our publisher, Bruce Lansky (now known as the King of Giggle Poetry) had a revolutionary idea. Instead of relying on esteemed poets and literary critics to decide which funny poems should go into our anthologies, we could cut straight to the source and ask actual kids which poems they liked. Lansky soon developed a time-tested recipe for letting kids pick their favorite poems (the methods of which I am forbidden to reveal under threat of tickle torture, except to say that the testing caused kids to sphew milk through noses and laugh nonstop for days). This innovative process soon revealed the long-held secret to getting kids to read poetry:
Give them lots and lots of potty humor!
I can not begin to tell you how liberating this revelation was. We called upon the poets of America to reach deep into their skivies and produce some heaping helpings of rhythmic retention. For example, one poem I helped select for an anthology was "Swimming Ool" by Kenn Nesbitt. I leave it to the reader to follow that link and discover the subtle joys of "Swimming Ool" for yourself. All that needs to be said is that the poem plumbs the watery depths of pure potty humor.
After discovering what kids really wanted in poetry, we proceeded to publish anthology after anthology of pure potty humor. With titles like A Bad Case of the Giggles and Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, these books sold in numbers that most poets and poetry publishers can only dreams of. Millions of copies of the books were soon in circulation.
My particular role was to oversee publication of Miles of Smiles. Shortly after that book hit the bookstores, Bruce Lansky asked me to lead development of an online giggle poetry presence. I soon designed a nice little website called Giggle Poetry and turned the little beast loose in the world. (I should also note that the Giggle Poetry website hasn't changed much since I created it, at least according to the Internet Wayback machine).
At this point, you are no-doubt wishing I would cut to the chase and state exactly how I've destroyed poetry as we know it. Here, then, is the chase:
If you now type the word "poetry" into Google, Giggle Poetry is the number three search item with over 20,000 links to the potty humor site. Only poetry.com (which isn't a good thing, as a number of people have called poetry.com a scam) and the esteemed American Academy of Poets rank higher. In addition, the rankings fluctuate. Only a few weeks ago Giggle Poetry was number two, with the Academy sliding back behind the potty.
That's right. The little Giggle Poetry site I created years ago has gone big time. Every time a new reader searches online for poetry, there's a good chance they are getting a great big pile of rhyming potty humor in the face.
Perhaps this doesn't matter. After all, if potty poems help kids to read, then so be it.
But then I think about some young, impressionable child (perhaps a burgeoning Homer, Shakespeare, or Dickinson) feeling his or her first poetic yearning to create verse. This child types poetry into Google and opens up the Giggle Poetry site, where "Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Bat" by Dianne Rowley jumps out at the youngster. The child goes, "So that's what poetry should be. Maybe one day I will write a great poem like that."
As I said, I've single handedly destroyed poetry as we know it. But whenever I catch my kids howling over some choice piece of Giggle Poetry, I wonder if destroying poetry is really such a bad thing after all?