I have a copy of the Cambridge Biographical Dictionary. It contains concise biographies of 19,000 humans. One of those concise biographies is that of one Ogden Nash, who is referred to in the opening line of his concise biography as an “American light versifier.” I guess the author of the concise biography of Ogden Nash could not bring him- or herself to refer to Nash as a poet. That’s OK with me. I have been known to scribble light verses from time to time and I wouldn’t dare refer to myself as a poet.
Cambridge goes on to say that Nash took “outrageous liberties with the English language.” In other words, he made words and phrases fit into his verses even if he had to change spelling or otherwise mutilate them. Nash was classy, though. He had to be, because much of his stuff appeared in the New Yorker.
I have a collection of some of Nash’s verses, in a tome entitled Everyone But Thee and Me. I paid $3.50 Canadian for it several years ago at a used bookstore in St. Catharines, Ontario. The book was once owned by Ruth W. Jacobs. Don’t ask me who she is or was, because I have no idea. I wonder if Ruth read Nash’s book before it was transferred from her to the used bookstore. I will never know unless I happen to run into Ruth W. Jacobs. If I do, I will ask her if she read Nash’s book. I can only hope she is not so old that she can’t remember. She might be dead, though. In that case, she will keep her secret.
I won’t go into detail about the verses (or one might call them poems) in the book, but I’ll mention several titles so you can get a general feel for what we’re dealing with here. “The Back of Mine Hand to Mine Host,” “Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Names Will Break My Heart,” “The Axolotl,” and “Don’t Bite the Hand that Puts Its Foot In Your Mouth.” These are but a few of the scores of versifications that Nash cooked up for the volume. Some of them are hilarious. Some are cheesy. Others are downright maddening. Oh, I forgot another title that deserves mention: “Eh?”
If you’re as old as I am, you have heard of Ogden Nash. If you’re much younger, you probably have not. He was a lot of fun while he was here. No matter what you call him – a poet or a versifier – he was still able to create a lot of pleasure for the people who took time to read what he had to say. And he said it, “taking outrageous liberties,” in his own way.