Cousins of Clouds

Cousins of Clouds
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jack Prelutsky


Jack Prelutsky talks to POETRY HOUSE!

Q. Why do you think poetry is particularly good at reaching reluctant readers?

A. Though I’m hardly an authority on reluctant readers (or on other poets), I can imagine why they may be drawn to poetry.
            I suspect that reluctant readers are daunted by longer works, such as stories and novels, and even essays, and avoid them as being simply too much work. Also, with longer works you have to read a lot of stuff to get to the payoff. That’s not the case with most poetry, especially the sort that I write. Let’s face it, you can read one of my poems pretty quickly.
            My poems are short and often have a punch line . . .  and it doesn’t take long to get to that punch line. Readers generally know that the punch line is coming, and can hardly wait to get there. The trick is to delight and surprise the reader. Most of my poems are funny, and just about everyone responds to humor. Also, there’s something about the way a poet weaves words together, as well as the rhythm and rhyme, that children find fascinating.

Q.  Explain a bit about your process for writing a poem or poetry collection.

A. I don’t have one single process for writing a poem. Some poems come from memories, some from dreams, some from direct observation, and others from a fragment of language that simply pops into my head. An idea for a poem may start with the beginning, perhaps the middle, or even the end . . . and many start with a combination of those.
            Almost all of my poems begin with a few lines scribbled into the notebook that I’m never without. After I’ve filled several notebooks with my illegible scrawl, I go back and look through them—and that’s when it happens. There’ll be germ of an idea that I’d probably forgotten about that suddenly stands out and says, “Write me!”
            I transcribe that idea into my computer and get to work. I type and type and type until I can’t stand it anymore and do a printout. Then I sit back in a comfortable chair and write on the printout, working on the poem until it’s just about impossible to read. I go back to the computer and transcribe my notes so that they’re legible, and I type and I type and I type some more. This process continues until I’m satisfied that the poem is as good as I can make it. Every poem gets rewritten at least once, most get rewritten half a dozen times or more, and a few have been rewritten over a hundred times.
            As for compiling a poetry anthology, I simply read many books of poetry to find poems that I truly enjoy and would like to share with my audience. It does take a lot of time and effort, but it’s always worth it.

Q. What poetry has most influenced your own work? What advice do you have for young poets?

A. I’ve been influenced by many poets—from Shakespeare to Poe, from Lewis Carroll to Ogden Nash—and I continue to be influenced. There are other influences too, such as stand-up comedians, movies and TV, opera, and my own childhood.
            My advice for young poets is simple. Write about what you know:  yourself, your family, your pets, your friends. Don’t start out by writing about weird purple creatures on imaginary planets . . . that can come later. Also, always carry a notebook and a couple of pens or pencils. When you get an idea for a poem, write it down immediately. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ll remember that idea later—you probably won’t. Also, don’t worry too much about making things rhyme . . . it’s much more important to express what you really want to say. And most of all, PRACTICE! The more that you practice, the better you’ll get. I still practice, and I continue to learn.

                                                                                                Jack Prelutsky
                                                                                                Seattle 2007

Jack Prelutsky Book List

Good Sports
Written by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
HC: 78-0-375-83700-5 (0-375-83700-0) 

GLB 978-0-375-93700-2 (0-375-93700-5)

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Meilo So
HC: 978-0-375-82286-5 (0-375-82286-0)

GLB: 978-0-375-92286-2 (0-375-92286-5) 

The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Meilo So
HC: 978-0-679-89314-1 (0-679-89314-8)

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
Written by Jack Prelutsky
HC: 978-0-679-89008-9 (0-679-89008-4)

GLB: 978-0-679-99008-6 (0-679-99008-9)

The Beauty of the Beast
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Meilo So
HC: 978-0-679-87058-6 (0-679-87058-X)

GLB: 978-0-679-97058-3 (0-679-97058-4)

For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funnybone
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
HC: 978-0-394-82144-3 (0-394-82144-0)

Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Marc Brown
HC: 978-0-394-87218-6 (0-394-87218-5)

GLB: 978-0-394-97218-3 (0-394-97218-X)

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
Selected by Jack Prelutsky
Illustrated by Arnold Lobel
HC: 978-0-394-85010-8 (0-394-85010-6)

GLB: 978-0-394-95010-5 (0-394-95010-0)