Friday, April 5, 2013

U.S. Children's Poet Laureate Celebrates National Poetry Month: Interview, Poems, Poetry Tips


Who hides behind the chocolate mustache?
J. Patrick Lewis

Hooray for National Poetry Month! Every April, National Poetry Month celebrates poetry and poets. This month (and throughout the year), Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis (selected by the Poetry Foundation) is traveling to schools across the country to fire up children's enthusiasm for poetry. The author of more than 80 books of poetry, his work has been widely anthologized.
Welcome, Pat! Would you begin by telling us why poetry matters to children?
Poetry is beautiful speech; it's the tunnel at the end of the light; a blind date with
enchantment; the sound of silence, amplified. Poetry—good poetry—can transport children and adults to places they have never been . . . all from the comfort of an easy chair.

What types of poetry do you find that children enjoy in your visits to schools?

Humorous verse, naturally. Riddle verses are probably the most enjoyable form for
children, simply because they are interactive. But serious poetry can be every bit as enjoyable and entertaining, and I read that to them as well.

What are some fun ways teachers, librarians and parents can share poetry with children?

Children will not gravitate to poetry; it must be brought to them. Surround your classroom,
library, and home with poetry books of every stripe—free verse and formal metrics. Adopt a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program. Poetry should be part of every child's every day experience. At all costs, avoid the term "poetry unit," which implies two or three days devoted to poetry, and then, "Thank the heavens, we're done with it," as many teachers inherently believe. your writing, you experiment with poetic form. Do you have any verse forms you've invented that you'd like to see more of?

Three new forms of my own design, and they all involve wordplay:

1. "One-Worders"

Hangman's Lament: Neckckckst!

Joey's House: Kangaroom
Green Poodle: Broccoli

2. "Homophoems"—I define a homophoem as a two- to sixteen-line poem, which contains at least one homophone or neologism.

The poem must end with a homophone as the surprise end-word or phrase. Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation, irrespective of their spelling, but differ in meaning, such as bear/bare, ceiling/sealing, lay/lei.

For example:

Zen Football
The quarterback folds
his hands under the center—

18, 6, X, haik-!"
What Color is Your Orangutan?
He’s not exactly orange.
There is a big dispute
About this brownish-reddish-tannish
Borneo galoot.
Why call him an Orangutan
When you can see he’s not
Quite tan? Orang deserves the name
Foul Ball
The high school band took their places
In the stands for the Rams vs. Aces.
A girl hit a home run,
But confused by the sun,
She kept running around all the basses.
3. And third, the zeno. This is a new verse form I invented, inspired by the “hailstone sequence” in mathematics.
I define a zeno as a 10-line poem with 8,4,2,1,4,2,1,4,2,1 syllables that rhyme abcdefdghd.
For example:
Weather, by The Old Masters
The Michelangelo thunder
of an April
at what follows
a great
spring meadows in
Do you have a few tips to help aspiring children's poets get published?
1) don't rhyme
2) don't seek to publish (that will come in time)
3) imitate great poems you love (remember, this is not plagiarism
because you are just practicing).
Can you share a few poetry writing tips?
1) Stress the importance of strong verbs.
2) Minimize the use of adjectives and adverbs.
3) Write with detail.

To learn more about J. Patrick Lewis, visit his website. Discover a J. Patrick Lewis Poetry Toolkit on a blog put together by teachers, librarians and other fans.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Who are your favorite children's poets? What are you best loved children's poems? Feel free to share your comments.

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