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About this poet

Dennis Lee was born on August 31, 1939, in Toronto, Ontario. His collection Civil Elegies and Other Poems was awarded the 1972 Governor General's Award, one of Canada's highest literary honors, but Lee continues to be best known for his collections of cleverly-rhymed children's verse. Wiggle to the Laundromat (1970) was written for his daughters, and like much of his writing, drew upon his experiences as a parent. His other books of poems for children include Alligator Pie (1974), one of the best-selling Canadian children's books of all time; Nicholas Knock and Other People (1974); Garbage Delight (1977); and Jelly Belly (1983). In much of his work, he uses Canadian place-names, local cultural idiosyncrasies, and environmental issues to try to communicate a sense of national identity, but his poems have proven popular among English-speaking audiences all over the world.

Bloody Bill

Dennis Lee, 1939
You say you want to fight me? 
But think I'd rather not? 
Then listen to the story 
Of another guy I fought, 

And maybe you'll appreciate--
I don't like blood and dirt 
All smudgy on my fingertips 
And dripping down my skirt. 

A famous pirate captain 
By the name of Bloody Bill 
Was marching up the sidewalk 
On the old Spadina Hill. 

He had a sort of eye-patch 
That was caked and flaked in blood. 
And he ground his teeth together 
And he spat out bloody crud. 

He wore a bloody dagger 
In his muddy, bloody belt, 
And on his back I saw the track 
Of thirty bloody welts, 

And he slooshed his soggy boots 
Till blood ran down the hill; 
I figured, by the look of things, 
It must be Bloody Bill. 

And Bloody Bill was roaring drunk 
And Bloody Bill was loud 
And Bloody Bill was picking fights 
With people in the crowd. 

First I tried to walk around him 
Like a common passer-by; 
I'm quite a gentle person 
And I wouldn't hurt a fly, 

But Bloody Bill got wilder, like 
A bully and a crook, 
And by the way, I meant to say 
He had a bloody hook. 

He spied a frail old gentleman 
And seized him by the feet 
And shook him upside-down until 
His change rolled in the street, 

And then he pitched the gentleman 
Across a grotty sewer, 
And no one had the nerve to speak 
Severely to the boor. 

Now, I was out to buy some milk 
To take home to my Mum, 
But I could see I'd have to teach 
Some manners to this bum 

For pirates are a pleasure 
In the safety of a book, 
But meeting one is much less fun, 
Especially with a hook. 

And so I turned to face him, 
With a sigh of utter boredom, 
And flicked my little finger, and 
Immediately floored him. 

And holding back a yawn, I seized him 
By his smelly snout, 
And I flipped his nose, and flicked his toes, 
And turned him inside out, 

And wound him round a tree I found 
And beat with might and main, 
Till all the booze and tobacco juice 
Had had a chance to drain. 

(I know that bullies often come 
And boss around a kid. 
But that's the way I do things: 
So that's the thing I did.) 

I pelted him with melted cheese 
And fourteen deviled eggs; 
I tied spaghetti to his hair, 
Lasagna to his legs, 

And then, because I didn't like 
the way he'd used his fists, 
I danced upon his ears, until 
He asked me to desist. 

And when I turned him right-side-out 
He scuttled down the hill 
And never once looked back at me--
Just ran, did Bloody Bill. 

And me, I washed my fingers 
Of blood and scum and rum, 
And bought a quart of two per cent 
And took it home to Mum. 

So though I'd love to fight you, 
I am really very shy, 
And leaving you all black and blue 
Would likely make me cry. 

I don't want to turn you inside-out, 
Or wrap you round a tree: 
Why don't you take your strong right thumb 
And suck it peacefully?

From Garbage Delight, published by Macmillan Canada, 1977. Used with permission.

From Garbage Delight, published by Macmillan Canada, 1977. Used with permission.

Dennis Lee

Dennis Lee

Dennis Lee was born in 1939, in Toronto, Ontario. His collection Civil Elegies

by this poet

poem
They never stop asking me 
"What will you be?--
A doctor, a dancer, 
A diver at sea?" 

They never stop bugging me: 
"What will you be?" 
As if they expect me to 
Stop being me. 

When I grow up I'm going to be a Sneeze, 
And sprinkle Germs on all my Enemies. 

When I grow up I'm going to be a Toad, 
And dump on
poem
I'm thinking in bed, 
Cause I can't get out 
Till I learn how to think 
What I'm thinking about; 
What I'm thinking about 
Is a person to be--
A sort of a person 
Who feels like me. 

I might still be Alice, 
Excepting I'm not. 
And Snoopy is super, 
But not when it's hot; 
I couldn't be Piglet, 
I don't think I