Whoopee spicy beef and celery soup

Seizing a moment of pleasure in yesterday’s deeply despairing hours: the little bit that I can still manage by way of cooking, which is really just assembly and using kitchen appliances (a rice cooker, the microwave), in a conscious imitative realization of the delightful verse by Maurice Sendak, “Chicken Soup with Rice” (1962):

Whoopee once
Whoopee twice
Whoopee spicy beef and celery soup
With rice

Orthographic note: Sendak’s original, on the October “Chicken Soup” page —

(#1) Each month’s poem has a calendar-appropriate verse (with three rhymes R — here, the Rs are host, ghost, toast) plus the chorus: X once / X twice / X chicken soup / with rice (where the repeated X is a trochee)

— has the non-standard spelling whoopy for the repeated trochee X in the chorus. From NOAD:

exclamation whoopee (also whoopie): informal expressing wild excitement or joy: I shouted “Whoopee” and went for a swim.

Each poem is composed of three sentences (printed as more poetic lines), with capitalization only for these (and final periods): the introduction In MONTH plus the material with the first two Rs; then another verse sentence with the third R; then the chorus as a single sentence.

The poems are usually quoted with every poetic line capitalized (and with no periods); and the October chorus is usually quoted with whoopee — so: Whoopee chicken soup / With rice (instead of Sendak’s whoopy chicken soup / with rice.); and my imitative Whoopee spicy beef and celery soup  / With rice).

The Xs. Here’s the poem for this month, conventionally windy March:

(#2) The repeated trochee X here is the PRP verb form blowing (and the Rs are door, floor, more)

And the January poem, with a whole lot of chicken soup in it:

(#3) The repeated trochee X here is the PRP verb form sipping (and the Rs are nice, ice, rice); meanwhile, there’s an internal play with slipping and sliding, and with slipping and sipping

The Xs aren’t all PRP verb forms; only 5 of the 12 are. The full set:

Jan. sipping; Feb. happy; Mar. blowing; Apr. oh, my,; May mix it; June sprinkle; July selling; Aug. cooking; Sept. paddle; Oct. whoopy; Nov. spouting; Dec. merry

Some notes. First, remember that these poems are pairings of text and illustration, and should be savored in the way we appreciate songs as pairings of text and tune.

Second, the little book is explicitly pedagogical — it’s teaching the names of the month, and the sequence they occur in — and in part it’s implicitly pedagogical as well, in that it conveys (and/or reinforces) conventional associations of the months: the icy cold of January, the winds of March, Halloween in October, Christmas (note the X merry) in December.

But third, Sendak has leavened these didactic purposes with wonderful flashes of imaginative silliness. Already in January, the skating boy is sipping his hot soup from a bowl tilted perilously back, right out there on the ice; the personified wind of March is blowing the door down to sip the soup himself; and in October the boy protagonist offers chicken soup on toast to the assembled sprites and specters. But then in April, the boy is drinking his soup while riding an elephant in Bombay; in May, he’s become a robin concocting soup in his nest; in June, he feeds chicken soup to his drooping roses; in July, he’s selling the soup underwater; in November he becomes a whale spouting soup. Anything is possible! You can do anything, become anything.

Finally, fourth, the little book is meant to be read though in sequence, as a whole work of art — in part, because it’s teaching the sequence of months, but mostly to accumulate the effect of ringing astonishing changes on a fixed verse form. Sendak provides the reader with the pleasures of reassuring repetition combined with surprise: a wonderful set of variations on a theme.

Carole King set the whole book to music, for a section of the Maurice Sendak / Carole King musical Really Rosie; from the 1975 tv animated version of the musical, a YouTube video is available for watching here.

The larger setting. From my 5/8/12 posting “Swine Lake and Sendak”, on Maurice Sendak’s The Nutshell Library (1962), a boxed set of four tiny volumes:

(#4) The set of four books

The Nutshell Library books are mostly not dark (Alligators All Around is an alphabet book, Chicken Soup With Rice a book of months, and One Was Johnny a counting book), though Pierre is “a cautionary tale”, in which Pierre, who ostentatiously doesn’t care, is eaten by a lion (but things turn out well in the end; the moral is “Care”.). All charming, and “Whoopee once / Whoopee twice / Whoopee chicken soup with rice” is a really sticky earworm.

Art, play, and animal pleasures in a time of evil and devastation. I continue to write, analytically and ornamentally, about art and play of many sorts (verbal, visual, musical; high, popular, and low), and about animal pleasures, especially of food and sex, while evil and devastation swirl around me. In part, I’m just continuing my attempt to manage at least one posting a day to proclaim that I’m Not Dead Yet; this is, I have to admit, harder and harder to manage with every week that goes by.

I’m also trying to cheer myself up, to fend off the despair that leads me to long bursts of hopeless weeping. Yesterday was a very dark day. But eventually I was able to riff on Fat St. David’s Day, and that genuinely lightened my burden. Today Maurice Sendak came to my aid. Sendak, dead alas ten years now (his obit by Margalit Fox was one of the spurs for that 2012 posting). Sendak, painfully marked by the Holocaust and coming from a generation of gay men hugely more silent than mine (when he died, he had lived with his male partner for 50 years, but never came out to his parents; my partner ended up becoming friends with my parents, really a second son for my dad, and I became friends with his parents), someone I had imagined talking with about the courses of our lives and the nature of our work, but of course that was never going to happen. Nevertheless. Sendak’s art and play improved this day for me — and incidentally yielded a second lunch of that spicy beef and celery soup with rice. (There’s just no way to make only one helping of soup, except from a packet or a can.)

While I ate that soup, horrific scenes from Kharkiv and Kyiv went past me on television, and I wondered whether posting about Chicken Soup with Rice was just too frivolous. I’ve done what I could to express support for the Ukrainians, but mostly that’s symbolic. The Ukrainians themselves have little choice about how they’ll use their time; they’re entirely focused on surviving. My focusing similarly on their survival would be pointless obsession. So what’s the function of a writer, artist, scholar, scientist, or entertainer — I’m something of all of these — in the circumstances?

I think it’s to push on, plying my trades as best I can in the Ukrainians’ stead, doing what they themselves aren’t able to do right now. To put it rather pretentiously, to throw life in the face of death. Crucially, not to give up, not to give in to despair.

So I give you Chicken Soup with Rice, spicy beef and celery soup with rice, and some incidental musing on generations and composing a gay life.

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