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About Shel Silverstein

Updated on July 23, 2012

Uncle Shelby

A Man of Many Talents

Shel Silverstein was one of my most beloved poets. Although known largely by his books of silly poems for children, Shel Silverstein was also a singer/songwriter, composer, musician, cartoonist and screenwriter. Known as "Uncle Shelby" in his children's books and for which sales reached over 20 million copies, in 1957 he became one of the leading cartoonists for Playboy Magazine. One of his most popular feature articles for Playboy was documenting his own personal experience of his time spent in a New Jersey nudist colony. Silverstein was a wandering soul with a deep need to experience all life had to offer and could convey it in any format he felt would reach his targeted audience. When he wrote about the White Sox Training Camp the piece was based on his own personal experience as he went and stayed with the White Sox in training camp. When he wrote the piece on Haight-Asbury district, it was only after he actually lived there and could tell of it from his own personal experience.

It was his editor at Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom, who encouraged Silverstein to try his hand at writing children's books in a poetry style. Silverstein recounted that he had never studied poetry and, therefore, developed his own quirky, laid back style that quickly escalated his status from the adult venue to his children's books which have been translated into more than 30 languages. The term "Renaissance Man" was often used in reference to "who" Silverstein was, but many who knew him well said that that the term was inadequate in trying to define who the man really was. The scope of his talent seemed endless from his ease in creating many great country and western songs, a successful playwright and fantastically popular children's writer of works that are still loved world over.

Silverstein did not like giving personal interviews and did not talk publicly much about his personal life. He had two children a daughter Shoshanna (Shanna) who died at the age of 11 of a cerebral aneurysm. His book " A Light in the Attic", was dedicated to her. His son Matthew was born in 1983 and his book "Falling Up", was dedicated to him. Later in life, Silverstein divided time between his favorite places such as Greenwich Village, Key West, Martha's Vineyard and Sausalito, California. He continued to create plays, songs, poems, stories and cartoons until his death on May 8 or 9, 1999, when he was found dead in his Key West home by his housekeeper. His death was ruled a heart attack.

Why a Great Man of Great Works

There are many reasons why Shel Silverstein stands out to me as one of my personal an most beloved favorites. Eclectic seems a fitting word to describe Silverstein's works and life. Another adjective that comes to mind is, scattered. They say like attracts like and I am very much eclectic in my attempts at writing as well as everything else in my life. I have also been referred to as very scattered. I'm sure that the meaning is not meant in the sense of a compliment, however, it does not define who I am. One positive aspect is that I am good at multi-tasking. The other reason Silverstein will always remain special to me because of my memories of the many hours my son and I sat nose to nose as we wound our way through the imaginary and silly worlds created by this talented poet. Yes, his books were silly and intellectually light, but sometimes simplicity and silliness can be examples of genius. My son delighted in his books and I delighted in finding the spark of child within myself that let us, together, each time we entered the silly humorous world presented by Silverstein, escape to those places of magical nonsense and make believe.

The World Just Gets Crazier

Is it just my imagination or is the world quickly getting uglier and crazier by the day? Are people so disenfranchised with life today that just common sense, common courtesy and selfishness has become the norm in our society?

Ohio Grandmother Guilty of Case of Loced-In Girl;

Two Arrested in Oklahoma Shootings;

Angry Ex Girlfriend Goes Ballistic;

Further Dire Economic Warnings;

and the list goes on and on. It is no wonder we all aren't locked up and in straight jackets. Maybe this somewhat explains the fact that so many young people are feeling overwhelmed and we have such a high rate of suicide at very young ages. With all the technology and inventions to make life easier; is life easier? Why does it seem that the 'easier' life gets the reality is the more complicated and twisted it seems? Is the world crazy or is it just me?

Is the World Crazy or Just Me

Is The World Crazy or Is It Me Who Is Crazy?

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The "Crazy" in Grocery Shopping

How bad can a trip to the grocery store be and what in heck does grocery shopping have to do with anything in this Hub? My trip to the grocery store was the epiphany for this piece. It also serves as my reality check that our society is deteriorating as I sit and write this. Even animals have a certain set of unspoken rules so to speak. So can someone tell me why so many humans do not feel the need to abide by common civil rules of courtesy, politeness and respect? Why does a simple trip to the grocery store cause me to come home and wish that I had a source to get my hands on ten bottles of Valium or its equivalent? Should the simple act of grocery shopping send anyone into such a state? The answer should be "no". But in reality, we could only wish such was true.

Last night I decided to do my shopping and I guess that due to the holiday, the store was busier than it would usually be at this time. As there were more shoppers and less cashiers (cut backs on staff and such) the register lines were longer than usual also. I will now try to recreate the scene as best as possible, with maybe a touch of exaggeration.

In my line there was a person at the checkout already unloading a very full cart and it appeared that the cashier must have had a very busy day as she was moving a bit slower as though she had put in a full days work. Directly in line behind the customer being checked was an elderly lady who had only a few items in her cart and the next customer in line to be checked. This sweet little lady had an obvious curvature of the spine as she could not stand straight. I thought to myself that the only thing separating this sweet woman from the floor was her tight grip on the cart handle. She smiled as she patiently waited for her turn in line as you could hear the mutterings of other disgruntled customers who were not happy with the wait time. Well the store, not wanting unhappy customers, announced that the checkout next isle over was opening and would the next person in line to be checked please move over to the new check line. Now we've all experienced this...right? So what do most of us do; we make way for the person next in line to be able to move to the new line....right? Well I did say "most of us". The sweet little lady was the rightful mover over. But wait, wow....easy there fella. Before anyone could even begin to shift to allow the sweet little lady to claim her rightful place as next in line, the guy in line behind me almost knocked both myself and the sweet little lady over with his cart as he made a mad dash to get to the new isle first. This guy was like a mad dog with rabies intent to make sure that no one would beat him to being first in the new forming line. Magazines were knocked off the rack and M&M's were flying through the air like missiles launched. It was an amazing site to see as his shopping cart was transformed into a lethal weapon. One could have mistakenly thought that the store had announced "free" money to the first person over! The sad reality was that, no, not free money, but simply saving 10 minutes of his precious time. Horrified and speechless to witness such rudeness, I helped unload the cart for the sweet little lady and as I continued to patiently wait my turn, picked up the dislocated magazines and M&M's and placed them neatly back in their places. This experience happens all to often to many of us and adds to the stress we all feel in just existing in the world today. This was my epiphany that reminded me of one of my favorite Shel Sivlerstein poems, If the World Was Crazy. I think the world is crazy and is silly writings could, in a small way, make us forget the seriousness of unrest that plague's our society.

Shel Silverstein's ~ If the World Was Crazy

If the World Was Crazy by Shel Silverstein:

If the world was crazy, you know what I'd eat?

A big slice of soup and a whole quart of meat; A lemonade sandwich, and then I might try,

Some roasted ice cream or a bicycle pie;

A nice notebook salad, an underwear roast; An omelet of hats and some crisp cardboard toast,

A thick malted milk made from pencils and daisies;

And that's what I'd eat if the world were crazy;

You know what I'd wear? A chocolate suit and tie of eclair; Some marshmallow earmuffs, some licorice shoes; And i'd read a paper of peppermint news.

I'd call the boys "Suzy" and I'd call the girls "Harry", I'd talk through my ears, and I always would carry a paper umbrella for when it grew hazy;

To keep the rain, if the world were crazy. If the world were crazy you know what I'd do? I'd walk on the ocean and swim in my shoe;

I'd fly through the ground and I'd skip through the air; I'd run down the bathtub and bathe on the stair.

When I met somebody I'd say "G'bye, Joe," And when I was leaving--then I'd say "Hello".

And the greatest of men would be silly and lazy; So I would be king...if the world was crazy....

Hello .....the King


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    • TravelAbout profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from United States

      Thank you for commenting. I glad you enjoyed it!

    • hecate-horus profile image


      6 years ago from Rowland Woods

      I really enjoyed the poem and the way you related your personal story to it. Nice hub!


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