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.