Form and Content
Eve Merriam’s sixty-five poems in The Inner City Mother Goose are moving portrayals of the evils lurking in the guts of cities across the United States. The illustrations by Lawrence Ratzkin are black-and-white photographs and drawings that visually balance the white-on-black and black-on-white print of the poetry pages. In only ninety-five pages, this book explodes two-line verses to full-page parodies of the original Mother Goose rhymes. The reading of this piece is neither contextually nor prosaically difficult. The book seems to stimulate readers to look deeper, to examine further.
The poems themselves as listed in the table of contents may have original titles such as “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” and “Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been?” Others have easily recognizable similarities to familiar titles, such as “Poverty Program Hot, Poverty Program Cold” and “What Are Winter Nights Made Of?” Blunt criticisms of politicians, law enforcement officers, drug dealers, and absentee landlords fill the pages, which cry to be crimson and gold instead of ebony and crystal.
Not only are public servants condemned but also the shopkeeper who cheats customers, the landlord who does not repair apartments, the school board members who merely rename schools after African American leaders but do no more. The role of the media is mildly knifed in verses about television shows, newspaper local advertising, and commercials.
Washington, D.C., and New York City are specifically named in photographs or in words, but cities such as Chicago or Los Angeles could as easily fit the images and poems. Any melting pot of humanity might have the same contrast of good and bad, hope and despair. As drugs and crime invade most sections of the United States, even small cities of the Midwest such as Lima, Ohio; Worth, Illinois; and Portage, Michigan, have educational programs for youths to make them aware of modern problems.
The dust jacket of the original work shows a photograph of a large mousetrap on the front and back. A drawing of a simple mouse near the baitless trap and the title, author, and illustrator names appear in red crayon, graffiti-style printing. The back cover quotes critic Ramsey Clark, who compares the book to the works about ghetto children by Lewis Carroll and Jonathan Swift.