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Written by Christopher Walsh, March 1998
on the occasion of the second annual Read Across America
There’s enough wild color to drive people bats
In a gym full of students in skyscraper-sized hats
All with stripes of the type that did not quite exist
‘til the great Dr. Seuss (yes!) had come up with this
Mr. Cat in the Hat, who, as everyone knows
Teaches kids how to read ’til their brains start to grows
“Read Across America” was what the school planned
It’s a day set aside to read all ’cross this land
And Rocky Heights set aside the end of Monday
For the pleasures of reading to be put on display
Students came in to read and to read ’til they drop
So the principal comes with a mighty big prop:
A book about fishes of various shades
– He does not turn the pages, because of his aides:
Margie Johnson (Thing Two) and Judy Kinyon (Thing One) –
And Dr. Mack leads the children in rhyme-reading fun
(One-Two-Red-Blue Fish is the title this time
’cause the usual title won’t fit in this rhyme!)
Then the high schoolers come with a sketch about Sneetches
And the show is so good that the show causes screeches
Enjoyment DOES come from the fun-ness of words
And no one now says “Reading’s just for the birds”
And reading awareness has come here to stay
For Rocky Heights kids on Dr. Seuss Day.
Now for context:
I once did a news article as a poem.
It was early March 1998: I was in my first year of working at the Hermiston Herald, a weekly (now twice-weekly) community newspaper serving the region about 180 miles east of Portland. I was a writer-reporter – frankly a better writer than reporter, which is partly why I’m not a reporter anymore – covering schools and government in Hermiston and the smaller towns surrounding it. I also took pictures, edited copy, laid out pages, assembled the entertainment listings, and reviewed movies, plus did whatever-the-hell-else needed doing.
Mondays were our long days, as we published Tuesday mornings. And that month’s first Monday, I was extra-busy. I finished all but one article by early afternoon, but the last one was a front-page feature on Read Across America, happening that day. It falls on or near Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday – yes, Dr. Seuss – and celebrates reading as, indeed, a good thing.
It’s kind of hard to read when you’re exhausted. There I was, camera bag at my side and notepad in my hand, at the end of the day at the end of my workweek, at a Read Across America event at Rocky Heights Elementary School. I snapped shots; principal Dr. Richard Mack and two office workers, Judy Kinyon and Margie Thompson, recited from an oversized copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; the students listened. The kids, by the way, wore paper versions of the tall Cat-in-the-Hat-style hats, their special stripes colored onto the hats with markers. Students from Hermiston High then performed a sketch version of The Sneetches, the we-don’t-like-you-because-you-have-no-st
But my notes, I discovered when I returned to the office, were, um, sparse. (It can be hard to write when exhausted, too.) I didn’t have enough info to make a full-fledged article. Which is when the “Why not…” voice went off in my head. Half an hour later, I sent to my editor a summation of that afternoon…done as a poem. (With, I realized later, a rhythm not too far from that of Seuss’s own And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.) My editor’s first words upon really reading this for the first time were, “Oh, my God, Chris, what have you done…”
Not mentioning my lame-ass notes that had, um, inspired me, I justified the poem-story. He agreed, with changes that we worked out together. This is the “director’s cut” of the poem. We got rid of the parenthetical comment at the two-thirds mark, and a few other words were changed. I prefer to remember it this way.