Actor/writer/storyteller/director Andy Jones (Jack and the Green Man) gets to the heart of Sheree Fitch’s (Whispers of Mermaids and Wonderful Things, Polly MacCauley’s Finest, Divinest, Woolliest Gift of All) wonderful wordplay.
Andy Jones: I was trying to picture what your upbringing was like, wondering where your love of poetry, wordplay, silliness, puns, nonsense and alliteration comes from.
Sheree Fitch: I came from a house filled with words.
But not the usual way.
Neither one of my parents had gone to university.
My dad was a Mountie, if you can believe it.
And when he went to high school he was a bit mischievous.
He got detention, and his punishment was to recite poetry!
And he always said it worked
Because he ended up being this law abiding, storytelling Mountie.
Once he had us kids he had this storehouse of incredible poems!
But he was very irreverent and he would perform them
Very dramatically …
“O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
And of course we were like four years old–
So we didn’t know what that meant.
But we loved it.
We would always say
“Dad! Tell us a story with your mouth talkin’!”
He was always making up these tragic stories
That would get us crying in our rooms, like
‘The Girl Who Took Stuffed Animals And Threw Them Into The Snow Bank”
And we’d say:
“No, daddy get those stuffed animals back in!”
My mother would go by the door and say
“For God sakes you got those kids crying again.”
My mom and dad were great.
My mom came from this family of 12,
They were the only Acadian family in Sussex New Brunswick.
My grandparents taught themselves English.
By the time my mother came along she was told:
You have to speak English.
I think, partly because she lost her language
She had this love of words, and she would sing those funny, lyrical, Crazy, tongue-twisty poems and songs from the 1940’s and 50’s.
You know, like:
“Mares eat oats and does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy
A kid’ll eat ivy too wouldn’t you?”
You know that one? And:
“Abba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba
Said the chimpee to the monk
All night long they chattered away.
All day long they were happy and gay,
Swinging and swaying in a honky, tonky way.”
So I would come home from school and hear my mom,
On her hands and knees, I swear to God,
Waxing the kitchen floor, with those old bumper waxing things,
And we would come in and help her by
Sliding across the kitchen floor in our socks.
And she’d be belting out those tunes!
They did it because they loved to play with their kids.
And they loved singing
Now, my dad’s parents had been teachers,
They had a houseful of books.
And I can still remember the first book I read alone,
It was at my grandmother’s in the oak tree in the front yard.
It was A.A. Milne’s Down at Pooh Corner
“The more it snows (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
I really was a blessed child –
And there was this Grade 2 teacher who said
We could write poems!
And the first poem I ever wrote was
“I’m an itchy Fitch
And I live in a ditch
In a Mulberry ditch
And I look like a witch
And sometimes I itch”
And she put it in the school fair.
And I watched people go by and read it
And when they read it they smiled, and I felt:
Oh my God something I wrote can make somebody happy!
It was like I discovered fire!
Andy Jones: Are there storytellers who’ve shaped you?
Sheree Fitch: I think I was influenced by many stand-up comedians!
I think if I could have been anything else in the world
I’d be Carol Burnett!
Or Cathy Jones!
I love to make people smile and laugh.
Laughter is juice. Magical juice.
And of course there were definitely poets.
I loved A. A. Milne.
And Carl Sandberg:
“DRUM on your drums, batter on your banjoes,
sob on the long cool winding saxophones.
Go to it, O Jazzmen.
Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy
tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha-
husha-hush with the slipper sand-paper.
Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome tree-tops,
moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a
racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop”
That joyous, raucous wordplay!
I want to do that. I want my reader to go where I go when I hear that.
It tickles our brain
It can lift our hearts
It can make us smile.
Why does Snickerknickerbox make kids laugh all over the world?
Just when I say Snickerknickerbox.
When I read Samuel Beckett,
I remember thinking that my head exploded.
Some things explode language!
And that doesn’t make sense but it makes sense.
I went into the land of absurdity
And I never came really out again.
I can’t seem
To not want to do.
If I could stay there, Andy, I’d be happiest.
Andy Jones: Do you think all of your works are really monologues meant to be spoken aloud?
Sheree Fitch: I think what I do is an oral tradition.
It’s always meant to have
The sound of the word
Coming through a human voice,
I still want them lifted from that page
And that’s what I’m thinking now,
I just turned sixty this year, Andy.
But I have a few more things I want to do.
I want to perform more
And get out there more.
I’m opening a little bookshop,
Did you know that?
Andy Jones: No.
Sheree Fitch: Oh God. I’m opening up a little bookshop!
Andy Jones: Where?
Sheree Fitch: Way across on a dirt road in Nova Scotia.
The first box of books came today…
Sheree Fitch’s bookshop is Mable Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery in River John, Nova Scotia. It specializes in Atlantic Canadian books authors of all genres, including of course children’s books. The grand opening is July 3.