Guest Blogger: J. Patrick Lewis

TeachingBooks.net is delighted to welcome award-winning author and Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis as our featured guest blogger.

Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!

Wordplay

By J. Patrick Lewis

J. Patrick Lewis, Photo courtesy of the author

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.

Listen to J. Patrick Lewis introduce and read from his book, Please Bury Me in the Library (HMH 2005).

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—

ungrateful dude

(or laboratory)

and evil eye,

meringue, entwined,

believe, far cry

treat, puppet, grunt,

and shallowness,

but best (or worst)

is loneliness.

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.

At my writing desk.

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.

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