Dispatches | November 09, 2004

[By Rebecca Dunham]

Halloween hit our home with a fury of sugar and gales of trick-or-treaters. It was my 22-month-old son’s first time partaking in the annual chocolate binge, and he participated with gusto, stomach-ache and all. He dressed as Dr.Seuss’s mischievous Cat in the Hat, a symbol which is synonymous for the pre-literacy set with Dr. Seuss himself. All Dr. Seuss books come marked with the cat and his red-and-white stovepipe hat. Whenever we pull out Green Eggs and Ham (a favorite) or The Foot Book (less well known, but very popular with the under-12-months crowd), Simon will crow with delight “Cat in Hat!”

And yet, I found myself feeling slightly melancholy after Simon was tucked into bed for the night. Perhaps I’d had too much sugar myself (he couldn’t eat all that candy alone, could he?), but I couldn’t help thinking of the role Theodor Geisel, known to the world as Dr. Seuss, was reported to have played in the life of poet Anthony Hecht, who passed away only a little over a week ago. According to the obituary in The New York Times, when Hecht informed his parents of his decision to become a poet, they were immediately alarmed and sent him to Geisel, a family friend. “Mr. Geisel told young Hecht to read about the life of Joseph Pulitzer, but he never did, suspecting that it would discourage him from seeking a career as a writer. After he became a success, Mr. Hecht was fond of advising young writers that they, too, could be successful if they never read about the life of Joseph Pulitzer.”

I am thankful he ignored Geisel’s advice, and willfully continued with his vocational choice. Hecht was a wonderful poet, and—more importantly, for me—used his skill to expose and chronicle many of the 20th-century’s crimes against humanity. Our small community of poets, as well as a larger, more global readership, is poorer for his loss. Looking at my son, the force of Hecht’s lines in the poem “Motes” (published posthumously in the Nov. 1, 2004 issue of The New Yorker) comes home to me: “For the one thing clear to youth/ Is that no joy goes unwept,/. . .That whatever lies in store,/ They were typecast in some play/ With a far from comic plot – / Grief, selfishness, and war/ Crowding its dog-eared pages.”

How appropriate that Hecht’s words linger, and that we carry them with us still as we file into voting booths this Tuesday.