Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
By J. Patrick Lewis
First: If anyone tells you that writing is easy, you have my permission to remind him or her that if writing were that easy, everyone would be doing it.
What I do (almost) every day is play with words. I love it, couldn’t live without it. But the “playing” part is a bit of a misnomer. Wordplay demands a comfortable chair, lots of coffee, and seven carts of patience pulled by tireless oxen.
By wordplay I mean anagrams, shape poems, riddles, spoonerisms, rebuses, and the list goes on. Let me describe one poem in particular that was difficult to write.
Wordplay, a many-splintered thing, can be boiled down to this: What’s in a word? I was working on a collection of poems about weird holidays. October 16th just happens to be Dictionary Day, so I thought the obvious approach would be to address this holiday by emphasizing the nature of a dictionary. Hence, I chose to write a poem with embedded words.
Warning: Don’t try this at home, unless you are ready to have your brain pretzelized (I just made that up):
In a Word
Inside their walls,
some words include
the perfect mate—
and evil eye,
believe, far cry
treat, puppet, grunt,
but best (or worst)
It looks easy, doesn’t it? That’s how good writing is supposed to look. If it doesn’t look effortless, then you’re not working hard enough. That poem took me almost a week to write—and went through 20 revisions. Not complaining. Just saying. All of us are first, last, and always, rewriters.
Let me leave you with a challenge. Try to write a poem that depends on a single punctuation mark. Extra credit if you do it with a semi-colon. Here’s an example:
Who knew an apostrophe could carry so much meaning in combination with another word? Remember: Nothing succeeds like failure. Make failure your friend. Embrace it. It’s the only road to success.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of J. Patrick Lewis. Photos courtesy of J. Patrick Lewis.