Pure Poetry #9: Shel Silverstein

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/27/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Lily


Aside from a period of angst ridden obsessions with Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton in high school, I do not know much about poetry. I wish I knew more about poetry. This is why Autostraddle is the most amazing and revolutionary website/life-form ever. They are teaching me (and you!) about poetry.

Here’s what I do know about poetry: You are never too old for Shel Silverstein.

This animated version of The Giving Tree, with narration by Shel Silverstein himself, made me cry. Right now. I am crying. It was my favorite book as a child and is still one of my favorites as a 20 year-old college student.

The thing about Silverstein’s poems is that they are not just for kids. They may be accompanied by child-like animation and they may on the surface seem simple and easy, but it is in their simplicity where genius is found. Children see the world in a way that most adults, too consumed with the headaches of life, are unable to easily see. Silverstein writes what children see. He reminds us all of what it is like to view the world in its purest form. A world without stereotypes, biases, and social norms.

As someone who often feels lost somewhere between childhood and adulthood (much like Britney Spears, when she was not a girl but not yet a woman), a read through Where The Sidewalk Ends or  Falling Up helps to clear my mind and reminds me that “where I am in life” is not a real thing. There is not a definitive physical timeline for life.

I was only eight when Shel Silverstein passed away but I remember the genuine sadness that came over me when I heard the news. I thought he was going to write me new poetry forever. As an eight year-old I was still pretty sure that some people could live forever and I wanted those people to be Shel Silverstein, Ginger Spice, and me. Unfortunately Shel the person did not live forever (I’m still crossing my fingers for Ginger) but Shel the poetry did.

Top Five Shel Silverstein Books

by a Twelve Year-Old Who Lives with Laneia

Shel Silverstein has been my favorite poet since I was little, basically because of all of the humor and pretty strange pictures. I think I first started looking into Shel’s writing when I was very young and my mom had A Light in the Attic, which is my favorite of his books. Here are the others, in reverse order, plus their best parts.

5. Falling Up

The Castle

It’s the fabulous castle of Now.
You can walk in and wander about,
But it’s so very thin,
Once you are, then you’ve been
And soon as you’re in, you’re out.

4. The Missing Piece

“Hi,” it said
“Hi,” said the piece.
“Are you anybody else’s missing piece?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Well, maybe you want to be your own piece?”
“I can be someone’s and sstill be my own.”
“Well, maybe you don’t want to be mine.”
“Maybe I do.”
“Maybe we won’t fit….”

3. The Giving Tree

The entire book is the best part.

2. Where the Sidewalk Ends

from Me-Stew

I’ll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your stew bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell–and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!

1. A Light in the Attic

from The Meehoo with an Exactlywatt

Yes, exactly!
—–Exactly what?
Yes, I have an Exactlywatt on a chain!
—–Exactly what on a chain?
—–Yes what!
No, Exactlywatt!

Share your Shel Silverstein feelings in the comments!

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Lily has written 29 articles for us.


  1. Favorite Shel Silverstein poem:

    Wavy Hair
    I thought that I had wavy hair,
    until I shaved; instead,
    I learned that I have straight hair
    and a very wavy head.

  2. Teddy said it was a hat,
    so I put it on.
    Now Dad’s saying,
    where the heck’s the plunger gone?

    Did you know Shel Silverstein wrote for Playboy during the 50’s and 60’s?

    I only know that because I read it somewhere.

    • Playboy does a thing on how awesome he was every once in awhile. Especially anniversary issues. He wasn’t always so childlike. Good stuff though. God bless my dad for believing that playboy articles are a good way to entertain a child. Leaned a lot :)

  3. I always liked ‘Deaf Donald’, which you really can’t appreciate without the pictures, and ‘Always Sprinkle Pepper’.
    But I think that now, my favorite is probably ‘Nobody’.

  4. my favourite:

    Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
    Said the old man, “I do that too.”
    The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
    “I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
    Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
    The old man nodded, “So do I.”
    “But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
    Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
    And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
    “I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

  5. I went on a surf trip to Mexico once with a group of people, and one of them that I met on the trip memorized all of The Devil and Billy Markham. Every night around the camp fire, he would recite about a part of it. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard.

    Also, when I was in third grade, every day a student would take the book home, pick a poem they like, and would read it to the class the next day. Probably my favorite things that we did.

  6. The first poem I ever memorized was a Shel Silverstein poem!

    I made myself a snowball
    As perfect as could be
    I thought I’d keep it as a pet
    And let it sleep with me
    I made it some pajamas
    And a pillow for its head
    Last night it ran away
    But first it wet the bed.

  7. I know Mr. Silverstein was looking out for my childhood when he wrote “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony.” I never got the pony of my dreams, but he gave me reason to beg. I mean, for all I knew, I was going to die without it.

  8. Shel Silverstein is easily my favorite poet. My parents read Where The Sidewalk Ends to me, and Falling Up was one of the first “big kid” books I read on my own. I was 7 when he died. I believe I cut out his obituary and brought it into school for show and tell, where I made several of my classmates (and myself) cry.

    In tribute to him, and to my childhood/family, I plan on getting the “Invitation” candle tattooed onto my…something. The man was a genius.

  9. ohhhhh, shel silverstein.
    The giving tree was definitely one of my favorite books when I was little and I remember being really emotional over it.
    i don’t think i’ve ever seen a picture of him, strangely.
    i have a friend with SS sleeves and it’s really precious.

  10. I need to find my Shel Silverstein books! I remember loving The Missing Piece, and I feel like it could have helped me through a lot of moaning about not having a boyfriend/girlfriend over the years.

    Interestingly, the coach for the forensics team at my middle school did tell me, when I asked to perform a Shel Silverstein poem for the poetry-reading competition, that Shel Silverstein was “baby stuff.” That was the first meeting of the club and the last one I attended while that coach was there.

  11. I do love The Missing Piece oh so very much. But how awful am I for not really liking the Giving Tree? It just seems like an abusive relationship to me. Thoughts?

  12. I’d have to say that my favorite Shel Silverstein poem is “Freaking At The Freaker’s Ball.”

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