Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kicking Off Poetry Month: Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem by Jack Prelutsky

Jack Prelutsky, the popular "children's poet laureate," has a book aimed both at the teacher setting forth to introduce students to the joys of poetry and the puzzled student looking at that blank sheet of paper as he or she begins that assignment to write an original poem.

Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem (Greenwillow, 2008) is Prelutsky's funny, easy-going how-to manual for teachers, parents, and kids. Reading and writing poetry--from the dreaded "poetry appreciation" unit to taking an actual pen in hand and trying to create it--often gets short shrift because one aspect of good poetry is its layers of meaning, an insight which comes only gradually to youngsters after both reading experience and life experience.

Prelutsky is a successful children's poet because he begins where all poets must begin--with the words themselves. Prelutsky obviously relishes the wordplay of poetry and chooses to introduce the "layeredness" of poetry by his sly use of words with multiple meanings. He's obviously not above using his young readers' love for the pun-based riddle as poem starters, but Prelutsky is capable of taking the double entendre to fairly sophisticated levels. Here he is in full wordplay in a few lines from his tour d'force "When the Butcher Was Delivered" a poem from his award-winning My Dog May Be a Genius (Greenwillow, 2008; illustrated by James Stevenson).

When the butcher was delivered,
and the tailor was disclosed,
the sculptor was disfigured,
and his models were deposed....

The doctors lost their patience,
the perfumers had no sense,
the bankers lost their interest,
but the clowns were intense.

It's not the key to the meaning of life, but this one forces the reader to think on more than one level here.

Prelutsky's "Writing Tips #1-20" are interspersed with short humorous biographical essays and the poems which grew out of them. He offers simple but effective advice, such as keeping an idea notebook and a couple of pens handy, writing about family and school experiences, feeling free to exaggerate and play with ideas and words, writing and rewriting, and being unafraid to begin with just a middle or an end or a few interesting words. Prelutsky also gently introduces irony, rhyme and meter, and the sound of words in general, the use of the thesaurus and rhyming dictionary along the way, and enlivens the tips with plenty of personal anecdotes and examples from his more than 1000 poems for children. The book even concludes with a sizable list of useful "Poem Starters," as well as a glossary and index.

Short, genuinely funny chapters with samples of poems growing out of Prelutsky's experiences make Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem a great read-aloud jumping-off place for poetry writing and reading.



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