New Version of Shel Silverstein's "Sick"
by Bruce Lansky

This poetry lesson is dedicated to the memory of Shel Silverstein

Is "Sick," which you can find in Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, your favorite Shel Silverstein poem? If you’re like most kids, it is. Why not write new couplets describing phony ailments or problems that would prevent Peggy Ann McKay from going to school? Then, you can insert your new couplets between Shel Silverstein’s first two lines and last three lines. And, voila—you’ll have your own version of the poem!

Here are Shel’s famous first lines:

    "I cannot go to school today."
    Said little Peggy Ann McKay.

You need to create your own couplets that match Shel’s rhythm and rhyme pattern. Each couplet should list one or more imaginary ailments. Here is Shel’s first ailment couplet:

    "I have the measles and the mumps,
    a gash, a rash and purple bumps."

The poem ends with the following three lines:

    What’s that? What’s that you say?
    You say today is…Saturday?
    G’bye, I’m going out to play!"

I’m sure you can imagine how much fun this is going to be for you. But to pull it off, there are two requirements you must follow:

    1. You’ll have to do some brainstorming—coming up with a list of phony injuries, ailments, bumps, and bruises.
    2. You’ll have to duplicate Shel’s rhythm and rhyme pattern; otherwise, your poem won’t read or sound right.

Let’s go back to Shel’s first ailment couplet and study the rhythm and rhyme pattern:

    I have the measles and the mumps, (A)
    da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
    A gash, a rash and purple bumps. (A)
    da DUM, da DUM da DUM da DUM

As you can see, the two lines rhyme with each other and have exactly the same rhythm: four da DUMs. (If you want to impress your friends, the da DUM rhythm pattern is "iambic," and since there are four da DUMs in each line, you can refer to it as "iambic tetrameter.") So, the trick to brainstorming for phony ailments is to nail the rhythm and then find some words that rhyme.

I suggest you start making a list of ailments. Then, try to rearrange them so that they match the iambic tetrameter rhythm pattern. Then, look for two lines that rhyme. I’ll take you through the steps:

    Some Phony Ailments: Rewritten Versions (four "da Dums")
    I’ve got a bad haircut: The barber cut off all my hair.
    My finger got caught in my fly: I’ve caught my finger in my fly.
    My hair is falling out: I think my hair is falling out
    My feet smell disgusting: My feet smell like a garbage dump.
    All my clothes are in the laundry: I haven’t anything to wear.
    I’m too embarrassed: I’m so embarrassed, I might die.

As you can see, four of my rewritten phony ailments rhyme, so, voila—I’ve got two new couplets:

    The barber cut off all my hair.
    I haven’t anything to wear.

    I caught my finger in my fly.
    I’m so embarrassed, I might die.

Now, you’re ready to write your own new couplets for "Sick." I suggest that you write down ideas on paper and then rewrite them using Shel’s rhythm.


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