Thursday, August 21, 2008

J. Pat Lewis’s principles and renga

In keeping with my back-to-school theme, I’m tickled to showcase a brand spankin’ new villanelle by friend and marvel, J. Patrick Lewis (used with his permission). Enjoy the clever wordplay that so often characterizes Pat’s poetry.

The Principle of the Principal
by J. Patrick Lewis

What does she do at Elementary School?

That lady who’s in charge of everything.

The principle of Principals is cool.

Dilemmas, whether great or minuscule,

She handles like a yo-yo on a string.

Now what she does at Elementary School

Is make sure yellow buses get their fuel

And listen to complaints that teachers bring

With principle. The Principal is cool.

She hopes to curb the stress and ridicule

Of standard tests that kids endure each spring

(Required of her Elementary School).

But she must make exceptions to the rule

To juggle at this Elementary Ring-

Ling Brothers Circus. Principals are cool.

To swim, you stick your toe into the pool.

To Principal, make every kid a king.

That’s what she does at Elementary School:

A Principal with principles is cool.

Pat also has a new book out this year (one of several, I’m betting), Birds on a Wire, a fascinating collection of renga (the ancient form of linked) poems in collaboration with Paul Janeczko. It’s a game-like poetic form that kids may enjoy exploring, because one writer pens a verse to which another poet responds, back and forth, linking first and last lines, but not all necessarily connected in content—if that description makes sense. It’s clever, fun, and surprising and in this case, weaves a story/description of a small town through multiple details both concrete and abstract (with lovely watercolor scenes provided by the talented Gary Lippincott). Here’s one excerpt that makes a nice “school” connection for me today:

behind their teacher
a line of first-graders

each clutching a new book

crossing at the WALK sign

make way for readers

From: Lewis, J. Patrick, and Janeczko, Paul B. 2008. Birds on a Wire. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.

The Booklist STARRED review calls it a “meditative meander about a timeless town… both insightful and visceral, (a book) that demands and rewards multiple readings, viewings, and contemplations." Check it out!

Join the Poetry Friday Round Up at Read. Imagine. Talk. See you there!

Picture credit: Amazon;
Pictured: Mary Jane Patterson, first woman principal of Dunbar High School, Washington, DC, 1860’s


Anonymous said...

Love the villanelle. And will be on the lookout for the renga!

Julie Larios said...

Such a difficult form, and J. Patrick Lewis nails it - comfortable about a bending the form & playing with it. Thanks for posting this.

Julie Larios said...

Such a difficult form, and he nails it! One reason why: he's willing to bend the form and play with it, which is the sign of a master. Thanks for posting this, Sylvia.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Kelly and Julie. I so agree. Pat is a craftsman!

Alan Summers said...

I'll put the renga book on my shopping list!

Renga is great fun and very inclusive.