Friday, September 9, 2011

J. Patrick Lewis - "Odd Things in My Daybook"

Almost every professional writer/poet I know encourages young writers to keep a journal or notebook.  That's terrific advice...which I never follow.  (Writers are a weird bunch; we all have our own idiosyncrasies.)

Here's how it works for me: I start to work on a poem.  Then I rewrite it dozens of times (on my computer).  Before I am "finished" with the poem, you might see me talking to myself, yelling, cursing, staring at the walls, stopping to read a poem by Larkin, Auden -- the usual suspects, drinking a dozen cups of coffee, playing with the dog, taking a walk.  (Did I mention that writing is hard?)

In short, I have no first drafts or sloppy copies to show you, even though I sometimes do what seems like a googleplex of them (look up that word).  My computer has seen to it that all of my rough drafts have been eliminated in the act of rewriting.  That's the story of how I work, and I'm sticking to it!

What I do have, however, is a daybook, nothing more than a compendium of random thoughts on all manner of things that I come across in other people's books.  Reading, by the way, as I never tire of saying, is far more important than writing.  I usually avoid rules, but that's one I never break.

The odd things in my daybook are only marginally related to poetry or children's poetry.  They include thoughts on politics, writing, novels, life, people, popular culture, in a word, everything that interests me.  I include these things because when I read them, they seem so compelling that I will kick myself if I haven't written them down in my daybook.

As a famous anthropologist once said, these are ideas that are good "to think." They may give me an idea that I want to put in a poem, but just as often, they won't.  They're just there, to enjoy whenever I am looking for a brain massage.

A page from my daybook:

"'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever." 
Philip Pullman

"Life began for me when I ceased to admire and began to remember."
Willa Cather

"Nothing sickens me more than a closed door of a library."
Barbara Tuchman

"I work continuously in the shadow of failure."
Gail Godwin

"[Emily Dickinson is] a poet who could enamel the inside of a raindrop."
Clive James

"I believe that if I ever had to practice cannibalism I might manage if there were enough tarragon around." 
James Beard

"Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother's love is not."
James Joyce

"What does education often do! -- It makes a straight-cut ditch of a meandering brook."
Henry David Thoreau

"A free verse poem that doesn't justify its line breaks hardly deserves the name poem."
Helen Vendler

"The meaning of life is to go back to sleep and hope that tomorrow will be a better day."
Charles Schultz

J. Patrick Lewis has published over seventy-five children's picture books to date with Knopf, Atheneum, Dial, Harcourt, Little, Brown, National Geographic, Creative Editions, Chronicle, Candlewick, Scholastic, and others. His first book of adult poetry, GULLS HOLD UP THE SKY, was published in 2010. He was recently given the 2010-2011 NCTE Excellence in Children's Poetry Award, and is the Poetry Foundation's new U.S. Children's Poet Laureate (2011 - 2013).

Pat is the proud co-owner of three children and five grandchildren. He lives in a garden of unearthly delights with his wife Sue and an undetermined number of moles.

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  1. Great new blog, Amy! Can't wait to read more. Hope you got my invitation to join Poetry Advocates for Children and Young Adults -- easier to manage than a conference and more wide-ranging and dynamic. I'll be launching a blog for the group in October.

  2. Thank you, Steven! (It's so much fun to see what everyone is sending me here!) I got your note...and I just e-mailed you back. I'm sorry it took me so long. Talk soon...A.

  3. I loved imagining you milling about trying to work out your words Uncle
    Pat! Thanks for sharing! And don't we share such a lovely friend in Mrs.Vanderwater!
    She's a marvelous joy!


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