Frederic Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was a famous New York poet; a writer a funny poems; clever, inventive poetry—and a football fan. The next question undoubtedly will be: “Did he have a favorite football team?” The answer is: “Naturally, yes.” “Which football team was it?” “The Baltimore Colts.”
Now we have an adjustment to make. Nash was a New York poet; that is, he was born and educated in New York, and got his first important jobs there, and started writing poetry there, but eventually (and not late in his life; not in his twilight years) he moved to Baltimore, and thought of himself essentially as a Baltimore man. He did return to New York, but only for a little while; and the stay only convinced him that Baltimore was his place to be. Of course, he expressed this in a somewhat ironical tone. He gave you the feeling of, “Well, if you’ve got to live in a dump, why not choose the best dump.” But there was, as there is in every true comedic artist, always a great deal of exaggeration and hyperbole in his expressions.
Nash was very gifted when it came to meter and rhyme, to traditional ways of writing poetry, but he arrived on the scene exactly when traditional ways of poetry were losing favor with poets and intellectuals and poet/intellectuals. In some ways, comedy and the fantastic are a traditionally-oriented poet’s last and best resort, because (a) they lend themselves so well to meter and rhyme, (b) the average reader is more traditionally-oriented than not, and (c) comedic-fantastic poetry is still championed by a significant number of intellectuals. Poems such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Humpty Dumpty” stick to a pretty strict rhyme scheme, and to great effect (as we all know because we all know them practically by heart, even though we learned them as children!). Also, believe it or not, there are people writing dissertations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Humpty Dumpty” right at this moment. Nash’s poetry stays with you, lingers; you don’t have to memorize it consciously (if you wanted to memorize it); just reading it is enough; the patterns, like those of the children’s poems mentioned above, fix themselves in the reader’s mind unconsciously.
As a young man, Nash was restless and unsure of what he wanted to do exactly. He tried Harvard; he gave the best university in the land his best shot; and dropped out after a year. He returned to New York and became a teacher. He gave teaching his best shot; but it wasn’t for him. He did know that he had the writing itch, which is pretty usual in the histories of writers. They don’t know anything, but they sure know one thing! It’s a common paradox for artists of all sorts, and Nash was no exception, and for a while he found himself scratching the itch in an unsatisfactory way, as a writer of streetcar advertisements. This is also pretty usual in the histories of writers—they can’t generally start out writing what they want, so they write what someone else wants for a while. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, had worked for the exact same ad agency as Nash.
Eventually, by the artistic strategy of moving from place to place, by taking a seemingly wandering, random route which nevertheless had a definite logic to it, Nash ended up working for a very respected and important publishing house. He was an editor there, and a good one, and finally he could begin really to toy around with poetry seriously. He worked and worked at it, but he was lucky in that he loved this work specifically and therefore it was a kind of play as well. His first book of poetry, Hard Lines, was published in 1931, and suddenly people knew Ogden Nash was. Nash found this experience quite strange, to one day be just Ogden Nash and practically the next the Ogden Nash. He took it in stride, and, as you’d expect with a personality like Nash, was humorous about it.
Nash’s poetry, though not “serious” poetry in the sense that the modern aesthetic view only accepts existential tragedy as serious, has nevertheless endured, and you often find him in anthologies of immortal poems right alongside Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.