« Cranky old guy hates Twitter | Main | Thanks a heap, Merriam-Webster »

For children of all ages

Andrew Hudgins, whom I had the good fortune to meet in graduate school in Syracuse, has just brought out another in a distinguished line of collections of poetry: Shut Up, You’re Fine: Poems for Very, Very Bad Children (Overlook Press, 118 pages, $14.95).

Your initial reaction might run along the lines of oh good, something to put on the shelf next to Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies. Well, yes and no. Mr. Hudgins has a distinct taste for the macabre, but these poems explore more deeply the double nature of childhood.

“Bad” children are those who do not meet adults’ expectations. They wet the bed, break things they weren’t supposed to handle, shy away from Grandma’s hugs. These are the children whose parents yell at them and smack them in the supermarket, neglect them, demean them, complain about them and warp. Here’s the voice of one of them:

I’ve got my eye on wedding bands / so Dad can marry Mom / or at least not take another date / to Mom’s third junior prom.

But bad children are also those bad in the bone, harboring little hatreds and destructive impulses, only a step or two removed from Lord of the Flies, ready to grow up into monsters like their parents. Here’s one of them, in “Our Neighbor’s Little Yappy Dog”:

But in the end we all agree / my plan will leave it deader. / I want to feed it—tail-first, slowly / into the chipper-shredder.

I think these verses may not be to everyone’s taste; I’ve been discouraged from reading them aloud at home. They are at once so clear-sighted about how horrible childhood — and children — can be, and yet, undeniably, terribly, funny.

They might move you to recall the work of another poet, Philip Larkin, who wrote: Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf. / Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:50 PM | | Comments (7)


"...and yet, undeniably, terribly, funny."
I would appreciate an explanation about the technical differences between "undeniably, terribly, funny" and "undeniably, terribly funny" (without the second comma). Thanks.

"undeniably [beat] terribly [beat] funny": one extra beat to set off "terribly" for emphasis. Don't tell the Towson English department I did this.

I don't get why people think you are an old, cranky guy...

Et tu, Bucky?

Sounds like it has the flavor of Shel Silverstein:

I love children? Yes, I do!
Boiled, broiled, or in a stew.

"...and yet, undeniably, terribly, funny" = undeniably funny but in a terrible way

"...and yet, undeniably, terribly funny." = undeniably very funny

THANK YOU for leading me to this poet. I am revelling in the poems of his that I've been able to find online. "Blur" rendered me speechless and teary-eyed. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected