You Should Read This: Walt Kelly’s Pogo

Image of Pogo the Possum, created by Walt Kelly.

Reading idiosyncratic dialogue like that of Pogo and his peers is key to learning how to craft that kind of dialogue yourself. If you're interested in a workshop aimed at helping with dialogue, check out my online classes.

Pogo the Possum was created by Walt Kelly in 1943, continuing on for 32 years (two year past Kelly’s own death). It’s a lovely cartoon, involving the denizens of a swamp: possums, skunks, turtles, squirrels, mice, alligators, and more. They live their lives, which sometimes oddly echo our own, or rather the politics of their time in which they were written, commenting on J. Edgar Hoover, McCarthyism, and muckracking.

What: Pogo is a comic strip. You can find plenty of compendiums for sale or you can seek out samples on some of the online sites devoted to Walt Kelly’s work.

Who: Writers interested in twisting language to their own ends should seek out Pogo, in whose pages it is beautifully wonderfully made coherent gibberish that delights the ear and cries out to be read aloud. Here, for example, is a Christmas carol that’s been Pogo-fied:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don’t we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker ‘n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, ‘lope with you!

Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly,
Gaggin’ on the wagon, Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Dunk us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof!

Why: Read it because of the way gentle humor, sharp political insight, and sometimes grave disappointment in the state of America have all been combined in the lives of a cast of characters that manages to combine charm and cynicism.

When: Read it when you want some new characters to people the chambers of your head: earnest Pogo, the scowling Porkypine, too ingenious for his own good Albert the Alligator, and wanna-be trickster Churchy Lafemme.

Where and how: Read it somewhere that you can laugh freely and smile to yourself or even read a scrap (maybe more) aloud just to hear the cadences.


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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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