Wednesday, April 27, 2011

J. Patrick Lewis - The Voice of the Voiceless

The Voice of the Voiceless
by J. Patrick Lewis

    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
    Political and spiritual leader of India
    1869 –1948

The outcast sits and prays, or sleeps,
Untroubled by a human’s touch.
From his oppressive seat, he keeps
Away from you at least as much.

His house is on the street: the curb.
His body signifies, Beware.
The flag he waves, Do Not Disturb,
No one can see, and still it’s there.

Such savage rites, decreed by caste,
Divined by birth, and quick with rot,
Insure one hostage to the past
Will be this godforsaken lot.

My children, I shall end my days
Reminding you: Your greatest sin
Done to these humble castaways
Is to forget the state you’re in.

For we are not the ones to say
What will erode and what endure,
Where the iron, where the clay,
Who the foul and who the pure.

(The poem above will appear in the as yet untitled collection,
subtitled Poems for the Civil Righteous, Harcourt, 2012 or 2013.)

© J. Patrick Lewis. All rights reserved.

I once again state that J. Patrick Lewis can write wonderful poetry about any topic. Whether he's creating a powerful piece about Mahatma Gandhi or telling the story of a house through the ages (The House, with amazing illustrations by Roberto Innocenti) or telling stories about the First Dog or writing about the poet of the world, his utter mastery of language and form is always apparent. Don't tell him, but I read his books first for enjoyment and then, at some point, I study them to try and improve my own craft.

I've had the great fun of reading Pat's Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles aloud while wearing my volunteer-librarian hat. My experience (documented here and repeated yearly) is that kids cheer, talk, laugh, and want to write poetry after hearing it. The only other thing I'll say is that it's a BLAST, and you must try it. And I want a sequel. OK, fine. I said more. The truth is, though, you can grab any of J. Patrick Lewis's books or read any of his poems and you're likely to get that same reaction of joy from someone in your audience. In fact, it's a guarantee if I'm there, and that's why it's such a joy for me to have him here as part of 30 Poets/30 Days.

Yesterday ended with I Put Each Carrot In a Suit by Greg Pincus. Up next... Skating Pond by Rebecca Kai Dotlich! For more information on 30 Poets/30 Days and how to follow along, please click here.


laurasalas said...


Such savage rites, decreed by caste,/Divined by birth, and quick with rot


Another powerful collection from Pat to look forward to!

Jane Heitman Healy said...

Wow, indeed.

tanita✿davis said...

I have to admit that this one made me weep. Oh, my goodness - just such a powerful and beautiful tribute.

Robyn Hood Black said...

So powerful and thoughtful. Glad to see the praise for THE HOUSE, too - a sumptuous book to savor again and again.

Charles Waters said...


If Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep were to be called anything in my mind it would be character actors. They play a wide variety of roles well.

J. Patrick Lewis is the children's poetry equivalent to that.