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Posts Tagged ‘Bat-Poet’

He began life as Blue Mouse, and how apt: pointy nose, bristly whiskers, cupped ears, and of course he’s the color of September sky.  Nowadays, though, when I walk in the kitchen door and Saul careens from across the room, he grabs my hand and says, “Get Blue Rat!  Get Blue Rat!”  Just how has the little creature transformed? Perhaps it’s the prehensile tail (it has wire in it so it can curl and grab things, like little boys’ ears), or the big googly Muppet eyes.  Could be because Blue is three times the size of the life-like field mouse finger puppet that drives the school bus and doesn’t talk much.  Most likely, however, it’s because of Blue Rat’s voice: gravelly, colloquial, with a distinct Bronx accent.

Voice?  Voice, you say?  How did a little stuffed plush critter come by a voice?  Well, from his conception Blue Rat has been designated as my ward.  When it’s play time (and it’s always play time) and we pull out the fuzzy animals, plastic figures, Lego men, Saul commands, “You talk Blue, and I’ll talk all of these.”

Because they all have voices.  Mappy the Hamster doesn’t have a mouth – he sort of mumbles.  Pinky Pie (purple kitty with pink nose) is high pitched and squeaky.  Lego pirates and space men are appropriately gruff and swashbuckling.  Saul “talks” all of those.  I get to talk Blue Rat.  He just looks like the kind of guy who’d be most comfortable chomping a Coney Island while he ogles the girl rats on the boardwalk.  So every afternoon when Saul whips him up a sandwich (plastic pancake, tomato, fried egg), he gustos it down and says, “‘Ey, Baby, dat’s deelishus.”

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Voice.  (Prepare for a big leap here.)  Voice.  When you read, don’t the characters speak in your mind?  Pitch, accent, cadence.  When you write, don’t you imagine and invent a persona for each creature?  Their voice?  How they say is as important as what they say.

One of my favorite little books is The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell.  The whole week I was at the Zoo last summer I carried copies and gave a couple away.  The Bat Poet discovers the voice of Owl, Chipmunk, Mockingbird, and they are all true.  In the end he discovers his own voice, and we discover how odd and wonderful it is to live in the bat-world.

Here are a few stanzas: I hope you’ll borrow or buy the book yourself.  Is there any end to the voices we may speak?

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from The Bat-Poet, Randall Jarrell, pictures by Maurice Sendak, copyright 1964 by The Macmillan company, copyright renewed 1992 by Mary Jarrell

Owl
. . .
The mouse beside the stone are still as death –
The owl’s air washes them like water.
The owl goes back and forth inside the night,
And the night holds its breath

Chipmunk
. . .
Curled at his breast, he sits there while the sun
Stripes the red west
With its last light: the chipmunk
Dives to his rest.

Mockingbird
. . .
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay –
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird?  which one’s the world?

Bat
. . .
The mother drinks the water of the pond
she skims across.  Her baby hangs on tight.
Her baby drinks the milk she makes him
in moonlight or starlight, in mid-air.
Their single shadow, printed on the moon
Or fluttering across the stars,
Whirls on all night . . .

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New York Times book review of The Bat-Poet from 1964.

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