Poet's Choice

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, December 3, 2006

Parents -- I suppose I mean a certain kind of parent-- perform free-style rapping with their infants and toddlers all day long: rhyming on the child's name ("A shirt for Curt, the little flirt, will you play in the dirt?") or babbling about whatever is going on ("Here's some lunch that you could munch if you had a tooth, forsooth, but here is some for you to gum").

It's a little cultural habit that may function to help introduce the child to language. Or it may function to keep the parent from going crazy with the repetitious, endless duties of child care, or it may have no function at all. Presumably, it is related to the genesis of nursery rhymes, which are not required to make much sense: Kids enjoy "Rock-a-Bye Baby" with no worries about its political allegory, and my own children seemed to like hearing "Sing, sing, what shall we sing?/ The cat's run away with the pudding-string" with no need to know what a "pudding-string" might be.

Language always has at least a little meaning and always has at least a little element of static or nonsense. Joshua Weiner in his new book finds a telling, evocative place on that range, with several poems that exploit the mode of nursery-rhyme or parental gabble. Here is "Hanging Mobile," clearly inspired by a crib toy:

The parrot's eye

speaks to the sun,

my son coos back

on his back, on the run.

Mosquito in the shade,

the night crows green.

Who rings the bell


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