Friday, February 29, 2008

Fun Facts about Names Day with J. Patrick Lewis

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a big fan of the work of economist-turned-poet J. Patrick Lewis. I featured his poem “First Men On The Moon” in July 06, and “Necessary Gardens” in honor of Library Week in 07, and “Chocolate-Covered Ants” last Halloween. The man has a gift for the quick quip as well as the thoughtful phrase. He experiments widely with poetic form and is prolific in authoring incredibly varied poetry collections. Here’s a brief excerpt about him from my recent book, Poetry People:

J. Patrick Lewis and his twin brother were born on May 5, 1942 in Gary, Indiana. Lewis earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Joseph's College in Indiana, his master’s degree from Indiana University, and his Ph.D. in economics from The Ohio State University. While working on his doctorate, he became an International Research and Exchanges Fellow, and he and his family spent a year in the former USSR. Later, he and his family participated in cultural exchanges, and they returned to Moscow and St. Petersburg for ten shorter visits. For over twenty years, Lewis taught Economics at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, retiring in 1998. While teaching, he published widely in academic journals, newspapers, and magazines on the topic of economics.

Lewis then turned to writing children’s poetry and took three years to study the craft of poetry on his own. His first book of poems for children, A Hippopotamusn’t, was published in 1990 and he has followed with nearly fifty more children’s books since then, most of which are poetry. Lewis’s poetry has been recognized by several American Library Association Notable Children’s Book citations, among other honors. Lewis is married and has five children. He is also a contributor of children's book reviews for the New York Times and a frequent speaker at schools and conferences.

I’m honored to share an original poem Pat wrote in celebration of FUN FACTS WITH NAMES DAY coming up next week on March 5. The poem will be featured in his upcoming collection, Countdown To Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year (i.e., 180 poems), published by Little, Brown, 2009.

Fun Facts about Names Day March 5
“Old Names, New Names”
Used with permission

Alice Springs was once called Sturt,

Australia. New names never hurt.

Peking, China, then Beiping,

Changed one letter—now Beijing!

Paris (born Lutetia, France)

Could go back? Non, not a chance.

Delhi, India rightly claims

Half a dozen previous names.

In Turkey, Istanbul I hope’ll

Not be called Constantinople

Like before, or else become

Once again Byzantium.

Tokyo, Japan was Edo,

Which they took a vote to veto.

Used to call Regina (Sask.)

Pile o’ Bones (you had to ask?).

Names are like a brand new dress.

First you want it to impress,

When it wears out after while,

You can choose a different style.

What a fun poem to read aloud with kids-- with a map in hand, locating each place. And if you have OLD maps on hand, you may find some of these previous place names, too. Follow up with Dennis Lee’s classic poem, “A Home Like a Hiccup,” from The Ice Cream Store (HarperCollins, 1991) which begins

If I'd been born in a different place,
With a different body, a different face,
And different parents and kids to chase--
I might have a home like a hiccup:

Like Minsk! or Omsk! or Tomsk! or Bratsk!
Like Orsk or Kansk! like Kirsk or Murmansk!
Or Lutsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Zadonsk,
Or even Pskov or Moskva!

Invite the children to locate the poem places on a map or mark the places that they were born or have lived. For more geography-based poems, look for Pat’s books, A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme (Dial Books 2002), Monumental Verses (National Geographic 2005), and Castles, Old Stone Poems (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press 2006) co-authored with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Then link these gems with Got Geography! selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Greenwillow 2006) or Diane Siebert’s Tour America : A Journey Through Poems And Art (Chronicle Books 2006). Post a world map and locate the settings for each poem. Encourage children to find or create poems for places on the map that are not yet in the books.

For more poetry, go to the Poetry Friday Round Up hosted by Kelly Fineman.

Picture credit:


laurasalas said...

Love that name poem, Sylvia. What fun! I really enjoy Lewis. Black Swan White Crow is my favorite haiku collection, and I'm reading The Brothers' War right now (thanks to Elaine Magliaro for bringing to my attention!).

Thanks for the background on him.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my Lewis fest!