Poets Online Archive


March 2019

“From there to here, and here to there,
funny things are everywhere.”
- from One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss

For this month, we are writing poems in the style of Theodore Geisel - better known as Dr. Seuss. Is he a poet? We certainly think of him as a children's book author and we know he uses rhyme, but few people think of his books as poems. If you take a look at one of his books in its entirety, using his line breaks, it certainly looks and sounds like a poem. Take a look at Oh, The Places You'll Go as one poem.

Dr. Seuss came into being partly because of a 1950s report on illiteracy among American school children called "Why Johnny Can't Read." That report placed part of the blame on boring children's books. Random House and Houghton Mifflin commissioned a young author and illustrator named Theodore Geisel to create a new vocabulary primer that would inspire and excite its readers. He wrote The Cat in the Hat and became Dr. Seuss.

Rhyme and repetition were clearly two of the poetic tools Seuss used. In One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish,, Blue Fish Seuss uses words that rhyme exactly. These straight rhymes create a simple rhyme scheme.
Did you ever fly a kite in bed?
Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?
Did you ever milk this kind of cow?
Well, we can do it. We know how.
If you never did, you should.
These things are fun and fun is good.

Dr. Seuss did not always use straight rhymes. He sometimes played around with words by using half rhymes - two words that sound alike but don't rhyme exactly - to add a different rhythm to a book. We can find an example of this in Yertle the Turtle.
"You stay in your place while I sit here and rule.
I'm the king of a cow! And I'm the king of a mule!
I'm the king of a house! And a bush! And a cat!
But that isn't all. I'll do better than that!
My throne shall be higher!" his royal voice thundered.
"So pile up more turtles! I want 'bout two hundred!"

If you say 'thundered' and 'hundred' out loud, you can hear their sneaky half rhyme. The beauty of many of the rhymes is that the words are unexpected.

And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
   From: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!’”
   From: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I meant what I said, and I said what I meant…
An elephant’s faithful, one hundred per cent!
  From: Horton Hatches the Egg

Using the same words and phrases was one way he was able to get young children to read his books on their own. Green Eggs and Ham is a good example of his use of repetition. (This was one of my youngest son's favorite books, though I must admit the repetition drove me a bit mad on the hundreth reading.)

I will not eat them in a house,
I will not eat them with a mouse,
I will not eat them in a box
I will not eat them with a fox,
I will not eat them here or there
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them Sam I Am.

Dr. Seuss had a 53-year career and is one of the most beloved authors of children's books. His clever rhymes, humor, invented words and colorful illustrations continue to capture readers. His books have sold over 220 million copies and have been translated into 15 languages, and beyond the books are the films and merchandise that have no poet competition.

In that first book, The Cat in the Hat, there is less repetition and more of a first person narrative, which might be the approach you take in your poem this month.
Then our mother came in
And she said to us two,
"Did you have any fun?
Tell me. What did you do?"
And Sally and I did not know what to say.
Should we tell her
The things that went on there that day?
Well... what would YOU do
If your mother asked you?

His book The Lorax has become an environmental classic that is read by children and adults. Though it is a light-hearted story, it is also a cautionary tale. It has a message about taking collective responsibility for the stewardship of the environment. What it warns is that not taking responsibility would mean our own world will soon be like the one that the Lorax left behind.

I am the Lorax.
I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees,
for the trees have no tongues.
I meant no harm.
I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger.
So bigger I got.

Oh, the Places You'll Go! (1990) is his last book to be published during his lifetime, and our model poem for this prompt. It is about the journey of life and its challenges. It has become a popular gift for high school and college graduates and also for retirees.

Congratulations! Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

Though it has much of Seuss' style, it also has a narrator and the reader as its characters. A young boy, the "you", is the reader and it is written in second person and uses future tense. YOU is setting forth on an adventure which may be starting kindergarten or college or a new job or retirement.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

The book is very much about making good choices as you choose the "streets" you will go down, and hopefully avoid ones that are "not-so-good."

You'll look up and down streets.
Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say,
'I don't choose to go there.'
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And there is also the possibility that none of the usual streets will be to your liking (a road not taken?) and so you have the option to head "out of town."

And you may not find any you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course, you'll head straight out of town.
It's opener there in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do
to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And then things start to happen, don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along. You'll start happening too.

This month's prompt is to write in the style of Dr. Seuss. Does that mean a "children's poem?" Not at all. We would expect  straight rhyme, some half rhyme, some repetition, perhaps some invented wordplay. Be clever with your theme or message, if there is one. Of course, all that cleverness can be used to entertain too.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Tonight she calls Amelda first
She likes the agnolini
Zelda is the last to go
She eats the zucchini

Once over the fence
She gives each one a name
And a same lettered treat
This is no numbers game

Some are woolen
Some are shorn
Some in the meadow
Some in the barn

The shepherdess in her bed
Is fast awake
She does not move
Not a sound does she make

He on the left
She on the right
That’s how they’ve turned in
Every night

He tosses and turns
Sometimes he snores
Then the dog joins in
From his spot on the floor

She likes these sounds
Familiar and close
Songs of slumber
Unknowingly composed

Breathes shallow
Breathes deep
Twitching eyelids
Secrets to keep

She hears the radiator
It plays a lively tune
Like dancing bubbles
Filling the room

Under the covers
She holds her phone
Typing away
She writes a poem

One night she thinks
She will write by the moon
Of the two in bed
Like fork and spoon

The body wants to sleep
But the brain says no
She can’t be taken
Though she’s willing to go

An umbilical cord hangs
From a still ceiling fan
Head, arms, legs
A paddle shaped man

The insomniac gallery
With its shadowy art
The room is never pitch
She can’t work in the dark

The brain unwinds
At its own pace
Unhindered by drugs
Time and space

Is the dog breathing?
Can the laundry wait?
Are the candles out?
Appointments to make?

The sandman story
Always gave her the creepies
Now she was cursed
With the nighttime un-sleepies

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream (la la la la)...
Stop the music– her body must mend
If only dark eye circles
Would start a new trend

She laughs at the thought
Thinks - Don’t be vain
Don’t add more worry
To an already taxed brain

Tomorrow cucumber slices
Upon her tired eyes
No Botox expression
Of frozen surprise

The room is quiet
She’s starting to go
The man’s inhale-exhale
Is now deep and low

So she closes her phone
Hoping sleep will soon follow
With sweet dreams to dream
In yesterday’s tomorrow

She thinks of Bo Peep
Was she an insomniac too?
Searching for her lost sheep
But who needed who?

She calls upon her own sheep
One more time
Working backwards from "z"
She begins to rhyme

But the task is too much
Her eyes too heavy
Her brain powers down
Her breathing nice and steady

The sheep, like the sleeper
Are all tucked in
into unconsciousness they go
together again

Like extra inning closers
They get the job done
The sleeper sleeps
Before moon turns to sun

Terri J. Guttilla


catch an early sunrise in a
- pocketful of soul
take the dwindling twilight on a
- summer evening stroll
creatures quite fantastic in the
crossing of your eye
come to call upon their friends who
dance with fireflies

now a let-me-nudo is a
simple kind of beast
which lives between the daylight while it
slips along the crease
you'll never catch one sleeping under
clouds of blue or grey
they swallow all your shadows while you
wander on your way

a milo-colto-brewback makes a
funny sort of pet
in deepest night under your bed they
form a jazz quartet
they really mean no trouble while they
play so smooth and cool
but a raucous crowd of mice can make the
nose-horn player drool
and your mother doesn't like it when that
gets all on the carpet

I really shouldn't show you those who
live within the veil
you'll need to keep this to yourself or
meld into the grail
for those who break the law get trapped by
fearsome fairy cops
who catch their runny noses over
lemon lollipops
they make you talk by licking every
single slimy drop

but how about that flotfish which can
swim around in clouds
they love a thunderstorm so much they
gather there in crowds
and their peals of spinning laughter flow like
thunder booming loud

now when the sky portends to fall you
really should beware
a slizerthitherflinzer may be
lurking on a dare
lurking on a dare you say?
they really are quite small
but if you give them half a chance you'll
find yourself enthralled
they'll creep into your dreams tonight
and light your mystical

so bottle up some moonlight in a
land of glowing peat
travel down the well trod path worn
smooth by smallish feet
visit all your friends who live
between the hidden spaces
the creatures quite fantastic from the
best of secret places
Corwin Black


The cat’s a bamboozler, he lies at his ease
on dog’s favorite couch – oh, a cat is a tease.
He teases and taunts and then runs scat-away –
that’s a sure invitation to get dog to play.
The cat’s a bamboozler, it’s clear as can be.
It’s plain as the daylight between you and me.
A cat’s nonchalant and the dog is obsessed
and kitty skedaddles like one who’s possessed.
Inevitable chase topples lamp, vase and chair
and cat gets away by the skin of a hair.
It goes without telling, who gets all the blame.
It’s dog who gets yelled at, it’s always the same.
Then in slinks the cat, all tease, taunt and guile.
The whole thing starts over, and lasts for awhile
till cat changes tactics and jumps in your lap
and purrs in your ear (and gives dog a whap
on the butt when the mutt is just passing by,
and the game starts all over. Don’t ask me why.

Taylor Graham


The teaser’s hands are down,
He ceases playing the clown,
Having held up our belonging,
And kept our throats longing.

The hostage had to cease,
With mob action on the increase.
His force had to wane
With the weakening of his cane.

It’s time to cry out loud!
Since slavery is disallowed,
And freedom is our goal,
For both mare and tender foal.

Like gallant lizards themselves,
We applaud ourselves.
Tyrant has conceded to defeat;
Crashing atop an iroko onto our feet.

Ngozi Martin-Oguike


This is a poem about Dotty the Mouse;
and what’s dotty about Dotty is her very large house.
“Oh there she goes”, the other rodents would snivel,
twitching their tails in a manner uncivil.
“That Dotty is a dot-dangled fool through-and-through,
a most dottedly dot-doozled mouse with no clue.”

And why was this said, all these whispers and snarls;
conversation as knotted as old twisted old gnarls?
Why, because Dotty in all of her dotty delight
had built a new house to a towering height.
It had great pillaring arches with heavyset columns,
and a three story library that was really most solemn.
The wide marble staircase climbed up, up, up, UP!
(It really was a most impressive buildup).

And in it, this mansion, with its hundreds of rooms
full of oddities, niceties and family heirlooms,
lived a dotty wee mouse, as small as could be
whose age down on paper had barely turned three,
living in this gargantuan house all alone,
while envious neighbours filled the air with their moans.

But why did she do it? Why be so dotty?
For Dotty’s dottiness was a little bit spotty.
Some days she didn’t seem dotty at all,
on other days, her intelligence just seemed to fall.

Our question was answered one fine winters day
when Dotty’s friend Dodo rode up in the sleigh.
As he knocked on the door, his brow bent in confusion,
before apologizing profusely for his rude intrusion.
“Dear Dotty” said Dodo, in a tone of dazzled delight,
“this house is really the most spectacular sight.”
And Dotty ushered him in, her face very pleased
twitching her whiskers with a joyful squeeze.

They moved to the parlor and served themselves tea
and at first their chat was cheerful and free.
But then came the question that had Dodo puzzled,
his stomach still grumbling from the cakes he had guzzled.
“My dearest Dotty”, began he in a most doting tone,
“this house is one of the finest I’ve known.
But why have you built something so large and so grand
for such a small mouse, I just don’t understand?”

“Why its not just for me!” exclaimed his host most surprised.
“That this isn’t a house for one mouse can't be disguised.
It’s for all of my friends, both the old and the new,
for a house full of moreness must attract quite a few.”

“Oh Dotty”, exclaimed Dodo, taking her paw in his claw,
“this scheme you have concocted has a terrible flaw.
All this grandeur and moreness wont bring you more friends.
Why the opposite, this moreness may cause friendships to end.
Moreness can cause those who you think are your chums
to feel sulky and spiteful and generally glum.”

“Oh dear!” exclaimed Dodo, feeling dreadfully forlorn,
“I never did want to be the subject of scorn.”
“What should I do”, she added with a sniff and a frown,
“do you think that I should just tear it all down?”
“No, not at all”, answered Dodo, his tone warming
“Moreness or not, your true friends will come calling.”

“True friends don’t care about possessions or things;
about grandeur or antiques or shiny new rings.
True friends, in truth, they see through it all
and even with nothing, think you a hundred feet tall.”
Dotty’s relief turned to laughter that rang through the house
echoing wildly and ecstatically from dodo to mouse.

So that was the story, and now here’s the riddle:
sometimes its better to keep friendship simple.
Don’t ever feel like you need more to fit in,
for superficial moreness isn’t actually a win.
But please also remember that the inverse is true.
This lesson will lead to a happier you.
If you do have more moreness, don’t be brought down,
by others who judge moreness with a scowl or a frown.
If you live for yourself you will set yourself free,
this lesson from Dotty will bring you much glee.

E S Crump


I lie on the floor
And I like it now more
Than I liked it before
When it was rather a bore
To lie on the floor.

I hear a crow caw
And I like it now more
Than I liked it before
When it made my ears sore
To hear a crow caw.

I walk by the shore
And I like it now more
Than I liked it before
With my gold Labrador
As I walk by the shore.

I am breaking the law
And I like it now more
Than I liked it before -
In prison for four,
Just for breaking the law!

They’ve sent me to war
And I like it now more
Than I liked it before
All the blood and the gore
That you see in a war.

A hailstorm of lead.
I’m hit twice in the head.
The world’s turning red,
Holding on by a thread.
Soon I’ll be dead.



Were you there that Friday night
When cats and dogs came out to fight
The cats were hanging on the stoop
The dogs walked by, then stopped to poop

The teeth came out and then the claws
Raking swipes and snapping jaws
A Persian tore into a Hound
That then let out an awful sound

A Russian Blue chased down a Pug
And crushed it like a mealybug
The Javanese picked out a Lab
And decked her with an artful jab

The cats were itching for a fight
They had the dogs in full retreat
Till one Bull Mastiff stood his ground
In the middle of the street

A German Sheppard joined him there
A Burmese followed close behind
A Doberman took up the rear
All four began their teeth to grind

It didn't happen all at once
It didn't happen in a bunch
The cats did not give up quite yet
Despite this fangfullsafetynet

Then one by one the cats broke off
And disappeared into the night
Down alleyways and under cars
They scattered to the left and right

The dogs were left to lick their wounds
As they lay stricken on their backs
Knowing they'd have not survived
But for allegiance to the pack

Frank Kelly


How big is the world? you ask,
you just want to know,
such a curious sort,
like the cat in the hat,
or the mouse in the house.

Well it’s big, very, very big.
It’s bigger than a mouse,
it’s bigger than a house,
it’s bigger than your dad’s car,
sitting in his big garage.

Say you walk down the street,
and walk and walk till you’re beat,
you’d only walk a little way
round the world, a tiny spot,
not a lot, and then you’d have to
turn around and walk back home.

If you were a bird, up in the air,
you could see your own house
growing smaller and smaller
as you flew above tree tops
high in the clouds where there are
rain drops, then higher and higher
till you could see cars on the road
looking like ants, some maybe like toads.

If you look up at night (make sure there’re no
clouds or the man-in-the-moon, like a giant baboon)
you’ll see stars upon stars spread out up above
(sparkling dots you could never count,
not your mom nor your dad, not even Sam)
and, if you’re lucky, you might see a flash
as one shoots through the air in a reckless mad dash.

The world is big in every way,
but it’s always there, every day,
so go out and look at the grass and the trees,
at the ants and the spiders, and even
the bees. You’ll never run out of new
things to see, and perhaps one day
while standing on Mars, you’ll look back
at the earth and find it’s just like a ball,
not so big after all.

Robert Miller