I used this, my version of the classic for the Long Island Writers Guild to show “we tend to use too many a word”.
1 The poem below on the table
2 The sign FRESH FISH SOLD HERE TODAY clipped on a magazine on the table
3 A duplicate sign crumpled under the magazine
4 A black marker-pen
Begin reading the poem and as you come to the words “FRESH FISH SOLD HERE TODAY” show the magazine with the sign.
As words are to be eliminated, cross them out with the marker-pen with a big X.
Last night I left the Writers’ Guild
With so many thoughts my head was filled
We were taught – and everyone heard
That we tend to use too many a word
I was going to work and saw a sign on the way
FRESH FISH SOLD HERE TODAY
I said to the store owner knowing he was wrong
“Sir, your sign is way too long
“You don’t need the word ‘sold’” I ventured to say
“Everyone knows you’re not giving them away.”
I shook my head with what appeared to be sorrow
“And sir ‘today”? Well, you’re not selling them tomorrow
“And why sir do you need this word ‘here’
“If this is not the place of sale then please tell me where
“And the word ‘fresh’ I won’t knock your sale
“But would you sell fish that folks would find stale?
“That leaves the word ‘fish” and you know darn well
They will know it’s fish – they can tell by the smell
So the Writers’ Guild advice was really fine
He really didn’t need the sign
At this point all the words are crossed out. The magazine is held in the left hand with the sign facing the audience, the crumpled sign behind the magazine in the left hand.
Pull the crossed out sign off the magazine with the right hand and crumple it into a ball.
Then simulate putting the crumpled up ball from the right hand into the left (under the magazine) by bending the magazine so the hands can meet but there is not exchange.
Take the magazine in the right hand (and the crumpled ball) and place it way to the right on the table. Place the ball that was in your left hand on the table to your left and keep reading. Note: Don’t make a move out of this. Never run when no one is chasing you. No one expects anything.
I thought the owner would be so glad
But I saw that he was really mad
He was just about to blow his top
Would he call his lawyer – or call a cop?
“Wait”, I said, “It’s not so tragic
Besides being a writer I also do magic
I waived my hand over the sign I’d destroyed
And I saw the owner was no longer annoyed.
Note – some have told me they preferred the standard tearing and restoring of the sign to the above crossing out. However I would point out that (i) the torn and restoring can’ t work with the order of the elimination of words in the poem above and (ii) by crossing out instead of tearing the audience sees the cumulative effect as the poem is read.