Shel Silverstein's Poems Live On In 'Every Thing' The family of the beloved children's poet has released Every Thing On It, a collection of playful, previously unpublished poems and drawings. "I cannot see your face," Silverstein wrote in a poem to his young readers, but in "some far-off place" he assures them, "I hear you laughing — and I smile."

Shel Silverstein's Poems Live On In 'Every Thing'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


When Shel Silverstein wrote this poem, he seemed to know that someday he'd be gone but children would still be smiling with him.

CLAIRE FALATKO: "Years From Now." Although I cannot see your face as you flip these poems a while, somewhere from some far-off place, I hear you laughing and I smile.

GREENE: That was eight-year-old Claire Falatko reading "Years from Now." It's one of the poems in a new book called "Every Thing On It" that Silverstein's family has just released. If you liked Silverstein's other books, "Light in the Attic," "Where the Sidewalk Ends," you'll know this as vintage Shel.

TRINIIS JONES: "Happy Birthday." So what if nobody came. I'll have all the ice cream and tea. And I'll laugh with myself and I'll dance with myself. And I'll sing Happy Birthday to me.

PAUL OSTERMANN: There are kids underneath my bed, cried little baby monster Fred. Momma Monster smiled. Oh, Fred, there's no such things as kids, she said.

GREENE: That first poem, "Happy Birthday," was ready 9-year-old Triniis Jones. The second poem, "Frightened," was read by 7-year-old Paul Ostermann-Healey.

Both of those poems are in the new collection, "Every Thing On It." The book has 145 poems in all. Silverstein eliminated many of them from his earlier books, not because he didn't like them. They just didn't happen to fit in the perfect order he was looking for in a given collection.

The editor of the new book, Toni Markiet, worked on other projects alongside Silverstein before Silverstein died in 1999. Markiet says the poet paid attention to every last detail.

TONI MARKIET: He would move a piece of art over an 18th of an inch and look at it, how it looked on a page...

GREENE: Wow, that's a slight adjustment.

MARKIET: Yeah, it's a slight adjustment but to him it mattered. And I think one of the reasons his books are still so immensely popular, after almost 50 years, is that every tiny detail was considered.

GREENE: Well, in putting together this new book, I mean was Shel sort of in your head? I mean if you made a slight adjustment you'd say, my God, he's a perfectionist. He would want me to do this or that?

MARKIET: Well, you know, I worked with the family, Shel's family, and they knew him obviously much better than I did. You know, we had the previous three poetry books so we had a template of how he liked to pace things out. 'Cause pacing and balance was everything to him...

GREENE: Pacing and balance, what do you mean by that?

MARKIET: Yeah. Well, when you read a book like this, as you read any book - any adult book - the right-hand side has to want to make you turn the page, page after page after page. And balance of the poems, you know, he has some extremely funny poems in all of the books. He has some more poignant poems. He has some naughty poems. And I think...


GREENE: I can picture that.

MARKIET: ...he liked to mix it up so that a child or any reader would never be bored. And you could let it open at any page and you would be entertained, and you wouldn't feel that you're coming out of nowhere. And so these are his poems, this is his art; we didn't do anything to them. We simply chose them out of the ones that had not had a chance to be published yet.

GREENE: How did you choose the title, "Every Thing On It?" Why that poem?

MARKIET: If you look at his other books, the title was part of the artwork. I mean to him, typography and layout was part of the whole. And so, the art is wonderful. I mean you look at it and you wonder what is he doing with all that stuff on a hot dog? And it makes you want to...

GREENE: And I'm just looking.


GREENE: There's a boy holding a hot dog with everything you can imagine piled on it, up sky-high; a basketball hoop, a snake...


MARKIET: Everything.

GREENE: ...a hat, an umbrella, yeah.

MARKIET: Which is what happens when you ask for a hot dog with everything on it. So we laid out a few. We did layouts of a few others and this was the one that we felt, if you were walking into any of the bookstores and this was on a wall, it would draw your eye the most clearly.

GREENE: Let's get to "Italian Food."


GREENE: You said the family really liked this poem. Why is that?

MARKIET: Well, they liked me reading the poem.

"Italian Food." Oh, how I love Italian food. I eat it all the time, not just 'cause how good it tastes but 'cause how good it rhymes. Minestrone, cannelloni, macaroni, rigatoni, spaghettini, scallopini, escarole, braciole, insalata, cremolata, manicotti, marinara, carbonara, shrimp francese, Bolognese, ravioli, mostaccioli, mozzarella, tagliatelle, fried zucchini, rollatini, fettuccine, green linguine, tortellini, tetrazzini - Oops, I think I split my jeanis.


MITCH MYERS: It was my condition to agree to the interview if Toni was allowed to read "Italian Food."

GREENE: That last voice is Mitch Myers. He's Shel Silverstein's nephew and he helps run his uncle's estate. He did insist that Toni read that poem "Italian Food" in our interview. In fact, reading Shel's verses aloud was a big part of how they put this collection together.

MYERS: We had a number of poems, in the excess of 1,500.

GREENE: How did you whittle it down to 145?

MYERS: Well, all the members of the team got a copy or a collection of the poems. We all went through them individually first and picked out the ones that we liked, the maybe's and the no's. We met once a month for about a year and we went through all the poems that we had in our lists. And if that made it through that crowd, then it was a keeper.

We believe and I'd like to think that poems need to be read out loud. And this is one of the joys of the book, and we really were able to determine if it really worked when we said it out loud. And even if we already agreed that it was a yes and it was a keeper, the next time around we still read it.

GREENE: And who is we? Who was on the committee?

MYERS: Well, the family. We all are behind this big, dark curtain.


GREENE: Are we talking about 20 people, five people?

MYERS: About five of us.

GREENE: One of the people behind that curtain was Mitch's mom, Shel's sister. She was on the line too.

MYERS: You want to read the title poem?

PEG MYERS: I'm going to start with the title poem, "Every Thing On It."

GREENE: Sounds good.

MYERS: "Every Thing On It." I asked for a hot dog with everything on it. And that was my big mistake. ?Cause it came with a parrot, a bee in a bonnet, a wristwatch, a wrench, and a rake. It came with a goldfish, a flag and a fiddle, a frog in a front porch swing. And a mouse in a mask - that's the last time I ask for a hot dog with everything.

GREENE: All right. That's Peg Myers, who is Shel Silverstein's...

MYERS: Oh, I have one more, David.


GREENE: Peggy, it is all - the floor is yours.

MYERS: Okay. This is called "Dirty Clothes."

Some put 'em in a washer, some toss 'em in a tub, some dump 'em in a laundry truck for someone else to scrub. Some stick 'em in a hamper. Some stuff 'em in a sack. I never worry 'bout 'em, I just keep 'em on my back.

GREENE: Well, there you have it. Shel Silverstein's sister, Peg Myers, along with her son, Mitch.

Shel's new book of poetry, "Every Thing On It," is on bookshelves today. You can read some of the verses at our website,

We will leave you now with Paul Ostermann-Healy reading the final poem in Shel's new collection.

OSTERMANN: "When I Am Gone." When I am gone, what will you do? Who will write and who will draw for you? Someone smarter, someone new, someone better, maybe you.

GREENE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.