Perhaps there is no other poet with the influence and storytelling ability as that of Shel Silverstein. Throughout Shel Silverstein’s life, he acquired an array of different talents ranging from cartooning to poetry. His most popular works include his book The Giving Tree and the song he composed for popular artist Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”. The remarkableness of his poetry is only equaled by his actual life. On September 25, 1930, Shel Silverstein was born in Chicago, Illinois.
He started drawing at the youthful age of twelve, which led him to follow his artistic aspirations and attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, then diverting to Roosevelt University. However, he promptly dropped out to join the Army and drew cartoons for the Stars and Stripes magazine. After his stretch in the Army, he became a cartoonist for magazines such as Sports Illustrated, but what really sparked his communal acceptance was his drawing for the popular magazine, Playboy. A friend of Silverstein’s actually encouraged him to start writing for children and pushed him towards it.
This led him to meet a book editor from Harper and Brothers, with the name Ursula Nordstrom. She agreed and helped to convince him to begin writing work geared toward children. Very quickly he released his first book, Uncle Shelby’s Story of Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back. This advanced his stint as a successful children’s author. While most of Shel Silverstein’s books achieved fair success, it was The Giving Tree that sparked his instant popularity. The book was turned away by many publishing companies due to the fact they thought it fell between children and adult literature.
When it was eventually published, it became a huge hit with both children and adults. The book had a slower start but soon launched into the best seller it is known as today. Along with children’s books came childrens poems, the first collection being released in 1974. Even in Shel’s earlier adult works, he displayed imagery, wordplay, simple rhyme, and nearly every artistic expression imaginable, ranging from fantasy to realistic to crazy. A lot of the time Shel would use humour to display a deeper meaning that is up to the reader to interpret.
Due to the rhyming patterns, Shel’s work has often been compared to Dr. Seuss. Although Shel does have a darkness and extremity to his poems that Dr. Seuss seemed to lack. His poetry for children was mainly looked upon as silly and humorous. Each poem comes accompanied with a black and white drawing, that sometimes help to interpret the meaning. Silverstein has come out with many books of poems, his most popular include Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Light in the Attic, and Everything on Top. Throughout writing all of his best selling poems, some influential events occurred that helped to shape how his poems were written.
In September of 1953, Shel joined the United States Army, he served at several bases including Japan and Korea. War is common to effect soldiers who return home, as many have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Shel did not seem to have this, but war likely changed his perspective. He wrote about anti-war in his poem “The Generals”. He had one daughter, Shoshanna Jordan Hastings, with Susan Taylor Hastings who passed when Shoshanna was 5. Shoshanna lived with her mother due to the fact that Shel never quite lived in one place.
When her mother passed she went to live with her grand-parents instead of Shel. Shoshanna then passed at the age of 11, due to a cerebral aneurysm, he dedicated A Light In the Attic to her. This left Shel alone, with his poetry and travel, for two years until his son Matthew was born. Who he spent much more time with then Shoshanna, probably because he felt guilty when she passed. War, children, and death are some of the three biggest things that are able to shape a person’s life, and in Shel’s case, the subjects he wrote about.
Silverstein’s books are usually a mixture of humor and seriousness. His poems often have silliness and sincerity alternating. Comedy is usually found in his poems about thoughtful topics. In Silverstein’s mind, poetry is fun and enjoyable. He approached normal issues with a childlike perspective and that really appeals to a broad amount of people, leading him to become one of the best known poets. While Silverstein was highly celebrated in many areas of his talents, it was always his poetry that stood out from the rest.
Shel had the ability to change something most children dread, into something that is fun and no longer problematic. The poems that are easy to read, and seem to always put you in a good mood, really changed how children and adults look at poetry all over the world. Silverstein seemed to have a special look into the mind of a child and could understand the way a child thought, which he incorporated into his poetry. Although Shel died on May 10, 1999, his poetry still lives on today. Silverstein was, and forever will be one of the best children’s, and adult, poets to exist.