|An Inner City Mother Goose
| by Kevin Shortsleeve
In 1969, Eve Merriam published a collection of verse entitled, The
Inner City Mother Goose. The book was a series of Mother Goose parodies
of biting criticism of some our society's most difficult problems; violence,
racism, and corruption. The book was received with alarm by many educators
and parents, and by 1982, Merriam admitted that it had become one of the
most banned books in the country. Among its less controversial offerings
were poems like:
Hickory Dickory Dock
The Crowd ran up the block.
A cop struck one,
rock got thrown;
Hickory Dickory riot.
But this is among the less shocking in a volume riddled with violent
images and uninhibited street language. At the time of its publication,
one reviewer noted that The Inner City Mother Goose was "worlds
removed in mood and content from the traditional Mother Goose poems".
In fact, the opposite is true. In the original Mother Goose collections,
published in the mid 1700s and early 1800s, death, dismemberment, prostitution,
domestic abuse and street language run rampant throughout the pages: And
subversive political statements are found in abundance. In the seventeen
hundreds, for example, British subjects were required - at their own expense
- to feed and house military grenadiers. Note this reaction published
in the 1765 Mother Goose.
Who comes here?
The fact is, being folk poems, - that is; rising up from the people - nursery
rhymes have often had a subversive - anti-authoritarian tone. Lewis Carroll
was echoing the sentiment of the times when he mercilessly depicted the
queen in the Alice books as a bumbling buffoon and Dr. Seuss, was in tune
with his times - the civil rights movement - when Yertle the Turtle toppled
the King and taught us, "a person's a person, no matter how small." More
recently - and more shockingly realistic, like Merriam's poems, is another
Mother Goose parody - 1992's The House that Crack Built by Clark
Taylor which depicts the drug world in all its tragedy from the South American
growers to the degrading circumstances suffered by its inner city victims.
Books like The Inner City Mother Goose, and The House that Crack
Built are, by most standards, not for little children. The books are
used to good effect however, to foster social awareness in adolescents and
adults. It is unlikely that this old tradition will ever fade away. As long
as there are causes to fight for, catchy lyrics will keep rising up from
the people, as they do today in rap lyrics. For, if you want someone to
remember a message, the old rule still applies; make it simple, and make
What do you want?
A pot of Beer.
Get you gone
You drunken sot.
Copyright 2005© Kevin Shortsleeve
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