Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
Tracie's NEW BOOK!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

J. Patrick Lewis: Poetry Interview

J. Patrick Lewis
J. Patrick Lewis swears he came to discover poetry late but I, for one, would never believe it! His lively poetry enchants everyone who reads it.  Not only does Pat write wonderful poetry but he inspires young people (and even adults) to believe they have something to say in this timeless form!What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?  What advice do you have for young poetry writers?
Shortly before he died, a very fine children's poet, John Ciardi, told me
that to be a writer, "you should buy a large wastebasket and keep it filled."
What he meant, of course, is that rewriting is every bit as important as
writing.  Every good writer is also a rewriter.  Keep revising!  And don't
be afraid to fail.  As I always tell children at my school visits, I fail every
day--a dozen times--and that's just before lunch!  So embrace failure, failure
can be your best friend.  It is the only road to success.
What do you wish every child knew about poetry?
I wish they knew, from early age, that poetry does not have to rhyme. 
Rhyming well is extremely difficult.  So when you are first starting out,
don't put yourself inside the box of rhymes.  It's a terrible cliché but true: 
Write outside the box.  Be as wild with words as you can be. 
How can teachers and parents help them fall in love (or fall in love themselves) with the genre?
Poetry does not come to kids automatically.  Poetry must be brought to kids.
And not for just two or three days a year--that awful "poetry unit."  You can't
make a friend if the friend won't talk to you.  And you can't fall in love with
poetry unless it speaks to you.  In other words, read poems or have poems
read to you every single day.  When you read poetry, please read it out loud,
even if you are in a room all by yourself.  Poetry is the closest thing we have
to music.  To listen to music, you wouldn't turn off the radio, would you? 
Turn on the music of poetry by hearing it as well as saying it.
Can you describe your process for writing a single poem? How do you put together a collection?
In my opinion, the idea for a poem does not come from an idea.  It comes
from a word or phrase.  Playing with words all day is what poets do.  Once
I have the subject in mind, I have to decide whether I want this to be a funny
poem or a serious one, a nature poem, a poem about geography, books,
history, my life, oh, any number of things.  Then I need to decide what form
to use:  haiku, limerick, couplet, sonnet, free verse.  There are scores of different
forms to choose from.  If I like the poem I have written (and rewritten!), I
might decide that I could do twenty or thirty poems on the same subject,
and that's how a collection--a whole book of poems--is born.
But one last piece of advice that I repeat everywhere I go.  An illustrator
friend of mine told me that if a child wants to become an illustrator, he or
she should do three things:  draw, draw, draw.  And I would say that if you
want to become a writer you should do three things:  read, read, read.  Never
trust anyone who writes more than he or she reads.

Email Tracie?  TVZIMMER (at) MAC (dot) com