I admit, this isn’t exactly a new release. In fact, as far as I can tell, Monster Poems was published in 1976 at the latest. My copy dates back to 1977 (my mom wrote the year along with my name on the inside cover) and, to be honest, I had completely forgotten about this book. I’m not one for holding on to a lot of stuff and, if I think I’m not going to read a book again, I’m happy sending it to the local charity shop. But this past November, my mom was going through old boxes, throwing out old cards and bits of paper and such, when she found this book and sent it to me.
Memory is a strange little beast. If you asked me, I could name a goodly number of books that I read or owned from maybe about the age of ten and up. And while I don’t remember all the names or titles, I can describe a fair number from a much younger age. There were the usual Dr. Seuss books and one or two Curious George stories, along with Dinosaur Comes to Town and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (I had to google ‘children’s story red steam digger’ to get the title of that one), but I had no recollection of Monster Poems.
Yet the instant I pulled this book out of the envelope, I recognized it. The illustrations were more than just familiar, it’s like they were burned into my psyche, so ingrained in my being that I had an almost instinctual reaction to them. This wasn’t just a maudlin bit of nostalgia, with me thinking, Oh, isn’t this a lovely walk down memory lane. No, this was spaghetti-tentacles of hair crawling out of every page and boring into my mind like child-friendly versions of Lovecraftian-Cthulhuesque nightmare while poetry echoed up out of the depths of memory like the cries of wild beasts, nasty, brutish, and yet suitable for a General Audience.
It’s that strange mix of forgetfulness and memory that I find interesting. There is nothing new about this–most of us experience it on a regular basis–but the idea that I could seemingly forget something so completely but, with a single trigger, suddenly remember it so clearly feels almost magical. Randomly, I wonder if artificial intelligence will ever be able to do that.
Going back on topic, I think part of the reason this book never left me it that there is real quality in it. If you doubt me, just try this, admittedly well-known, sample:
In a dark, dark wood was a dark, dark house, and in the dark, dark house was a dark, dark room, and in the dark, dark room was a dark, dark corner, and in the dark, dark corner was a dark, dark cupboard, and in the dark, dark cupboard was a dark, dark shelf, and on the dark, dark shelf was a dark, dark box, and in the dark, dark box was
In the child-friendly version of this poem, the last line is:
Happy New Year everyone!