Ogden Nash’s staple was the short comic poem. He wrote hundreds of them and collected them in more than twenty books. He also wrote essays for The New Yorker and other magazines, and he collaborated with friends on a variety of enterprises, contributing to several screenplays for Hollywood and two Broadway musicals. His daughters seem to have given him ideas for children’s fiction, but he wrote for boys as often as he did for girls, and his most famous fiction, Custard the Dragon (1959), is pure fantasy. After he died, his older daughter collected the letters he had written to her and other family members during the last three decades of his life, Loving Letters from Ogden Nash: A Family Album (1990). These letters show him to have been as honest in private life as he was candid in print. Still other readers continue to collaborate with Nash as illustrators of his poems.
During his lifetime, Ogden Nash was one of America’s best-loved humorists. Educated adults and precocious children quoted Nash much as their parents and grandparents had quoted Mark Twain, to give a distinctly American perspective on life, love, and English language. He was in many ways his own creation, for he invariably wrote in the persona of a middle-aged, middle-class American of middle income: a husband and father, a friend and neighbor, optimistic about life in general but pessimistic about the social and economic forces at work in the twentieth century. His tone was invariably urbane yet avuncular and slightly daft. Though often imitated, he was never duplicated, and his books usually sold very well. Indeed, he was so successful commercially that grudging purists claimed his light verse was not poetry at all. Other readers agreed with the poet Archibald MacLeish, who claimed, in the preface to the posthumously published I Wouldn’t Have Missed It: Selected Poems (1972), that Nash was a true poet and a master of American English. Though he never won a major literary award, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1950 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1965.
Axford, L. B. An Index to the Poems of Ogden Nash. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1972. Because Nash’s individual poems were often reprinted, this bibliography is a handy way to find the first publication of any Nash poem and gauge its popularity by the number of reprintings.
Collins, Billy. “Billy Collins on Ogden Nash.” In Poetry Speaks, edited by Elise Paschen and Rebekah Presson Mosby. Napersville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2001. Simply placing Nash in this anthology and compact disk of poets reading their poetry—with the likes of Walt Whitman and T. S. Eliot—is a statement of Nash’s poetic quality, and Collins’s assessment confirms the choice, though he faults Nash’s verse for always trying to be funny.
Crandall, George W., ed. Ogden Nash: A Descriptive Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1990. Gives complete publishing details of Nash’s many books, through all their printings. Helpful for identifying occasional pieces not cited in Axford’s index.
Kermode, Frank. “Maturing Late or Simply Rotting Early?” The Spectator, September 24, 1994, 36-37. A major British critic discusses Nash’s appeal to a new generation of readers. Kermode is able to catch the literary allusions in Nash’s collected poems and dignifies Nash with a careful reading.
Nash, Ogden. Interview by Roy Newquist. In Conversations. New York: Dodd, 1959. An interview with Nash conducted at the peak of his career, looking back on his New Yorker days. Valuable for Nash’s comments on the craft of his verse.
_______. Loving Letters from Ogden Nash: A Family Album. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990. A selection of Nash’s personal letters, with commentary by his eldest daughter, Linnell Nash Smith.
Parker, Douglas M. Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America’s Laureate of Light Verse. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005. A wide-ranging biography of the poet, illustrated and includes bibliography.
Stuart, David. The Life and Rhymes of Ogden Nash. Lanham, Md.: Madison Books, 2000. A critical biography, illustrated with photos from the Nash papers at the University of Texas in Austin. Includes verses about Nash by contemporary reviewers imitating his style and previously unpublished verses by such friends as Dorothy Parker and E. B. White.