Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Andrew Hudgins’ book of children’s poetry, Shut Up, You’re Fine: Poems for Very, Very Bad Children, is not as grim as many of his previous works, but it’s hardly Goodnight Moon. Hudgins has written about the psychology of his hard-knock Southern upbringing for nearly 20 years. Until now, his poems have been free-verse catalogues of hard times: In 2001’s “In the Well,” Hudgins’ child speaker is lowered into a well by his father in order to retrieve something that has fallen into the water. The child swings back and forth as he drops into “the darkness”; tastes “earth, then rot,” and then cracks his head. But the real horror is the object which he finds floating in the water. “Then wet fur/which I hugged to my chest/I shouted. Daddy hauled/the wet rope. I gagged, and pressed/my neighbor’s missing dog/against me.” By comparison, Shut Up is playful. The childhood stories are less autobiographical and, thankfully, the young speakers aren’t as in need of saving—though they still serve as Hudgins’ vehicle for his ongoing demythification of the archetypal Southern family. As with all of Hudgins’ work, the enthralling narratives and simple verse transcend class and geography, but Shut Up’s best feature is the combined didactic value of its title and its speakers’ perspectives. One can imagine someone breaking out Hudgins’ book when his child complains about limited TV time. You think you’ve got it hard? the parent might ask, before flipping open to “When I Grow Up,” narrated by a child whose parents steal from their jobs to support him. “Daddy brings home legal pads/but mommy brings home gauze/used needles, and heart monitors/like toys from Santa Claus…I can’t wait to land a job/at Kleinman’s jewelry store/I’ve got my eye on wedding bands/so Dad can marry Mom/or at least not take another date/to Mom’s third junior prom,” Hudgins writes. Although there are more than a few genuinely childlike pieces in the anthology, the best poems are about subjects that will fly over most kids’ heads. But even when Hudgins conjures scenes that would give most kids nightmares—noisy headboards, preachers with “secret beliefs,” a dad who turns into the “Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull” after knocking back a few too many—the humor is more gray than black.