Student Question

Did Ogden Nash use "viable and friable" in a poem or to describe himself as a poet?

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Ogden Nash allegedly referred to himself as being both "viable and friable." However, the phrase does not appear in any of his most frequently cited poems or quotations.

It is not unreasonable to think that the phrase is attributed to him, perhaps erroneously, because it is consistent with his overall tongue-in-cheek writing style. The poet is known for his succinct and pithy yet witty sayings and poems. In just a few well-crafted sentences, he is able to present meaningful commentaries on a range of topics, including man’s relation to the animal world and to nature generally, as well as human emotions, including romantic love and marriage. He often drew on satire to underscore his point. For example, one poem reads

I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all.

This is a humorous ode to Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem "Trees," which begins with the following:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

Nash replaces the word poem with the word billboard in the first sentence. With that one humorous edit, he shines a spotlight on the use of trees and nature for man-made products such as billboards, which support the overall commercial and capitalist ecosystem. Kilmer noted that no poet, however great, could ever come close to creating anything as beautiful and brilliant as nature when nature creates trees. Conversely, Nash notes that man erases the beauty of nature when people cut down trees and put up billboards. This action not only destroys the natural beauty of the land and leads to deforestation but also obscures the pristine view of the tree line.

One irony of this poem is that Nash himself was forced to work in advertising for a time to support himself. Therefore, the poem about billboards contains a bit of self-deprecating humor, just as the phrase "viable and friable" does.

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