Wednesday, May 16, 2012

J. Patrick Lewis - Edgar Allan Poe's Pie

I am always excited when J. Patrick Lewis, currently the Children's Poet Laureate, stops by here at GottaBook. Pat's a word wizard whose seemingly unending creativity is both entertaining AND inspiring for me. And this time, I'm talking to him about a book that delights me more than usual: Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems (illustrated wonderfully by Michael Slack).

In short, he takes classic poems, parodies them, and adds math. Here's an example so you know what I'm raving about:

Edward Lear’s Elephant with Hot Dog
Inspired by “THERE WAS AN OLD MAN WITH A BEARD” by Edward Lear
“When an elephant sat down to order
A half of a third of a quarter
Of an eighty-foot bun
And a frankfurter, son,
Was it longer than three feet, or shorter?”

Be still Greg's geeky heart! (And yes, the answers are in the book. But here, you have to do the math!). Now, on with the chat....

It was nice of you to write a book specifically for me - a mashup of math, poetry, and parody. How did you know that this was what I would've flipped out for as a kid (and still do as an adult)? Or... well... do you think there are other kids who would like it, too????

I can only hope other kids like yourself will cotton to a math/poetry salmagundi. It worked once for me with a collection of math riddles, Arithmetickle, which is still in print after a decade.

When you visit classes/schools and get to these poems, what reaction do you get from the kids? Do they want to hear the original poems? Do they yell out answers?

The short answer is, Yes, they do yell out the answers, at least to some of them, but I have come to realize, after a number of tries, that some work and some don't. As always, I write, and wrote this book, for myself. And many of these poets/poems in EAPoe's Pie are simply unknown or passe to 4th-5th graders. That shouldn't detract from the math element in them, but I won't lie and tell you that they were shouting, "John Ciardi!" "Eleanor Farjeon!"

How did you pick the poems you chose to re-work? Was it based on you seeing how to make them fit with math or was it based more on poems you love or something else entirely?

Truth be told, I chose the poets first, then looked for their most well-known poems that might make grist for the math parody mill. Harcourt accepted almost all of the choices I made, so there was some feeling of vindication.

Did you ever create poems with math that you decided was too complex for this collection?

Sadly, yes, and a few of them might still reside in the book. It's extremely challenging to write math poems all of equal difficulty—far easier in fact to write straightforward math problems. And occasionally, I get/got so carried away that I forget/forgot my (young) audience.

Any plans to do this with other topics besides math?

How many I think he should do.
Well, I love the parody form, which I see in no way as an attempt to outdo the original. For me, a parody is an act of homage, even if you re-do a serious poem with a nonsensical "reply."

In 2037 or thereabouts (kidding), I have a book of parodies about all sorts of subjects coming out with Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press entitled Shadow Poems: Parrot-ies. At least that's the title I hope they agree to keep.

You've already had wonderful books out this year. What's next for you?

If you promise not to hold me to the exact dates—publishers are always changing lists—I'll mention these poetry books:

  • Take Two! A Celebration of Twins (with Jane Yolen), Candlewick, Spring 2012.
  • Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs (with Jane Yolen), Charlesbridge, Spring 2012.
  • The National Geographic Book of Animal Poems, Sept. 2012—200 poems (my first anthology).
  • If You Were a Chocolate Mustache: (156) Poems, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2012-2013?
  • When Thunder Comes: Poems for the Civil Rights Leaders, Chronicle Books, 2013. 
  • Everything Is a Poem: Selected Best Poems of JPL, Creative Editions, 2013.
  • Poemobiles: Imaginary Car Poems (with Douglas Florian), Schwartz & Wade, Spring 2013.
  • World Rat Day: Poems About Holidays You Have Never Heard Of, Candlewick, 2013.

There was more in our email exchanges, but I decided to end with this list of delectable titles we have to look forward to (or in the case of some, like Take Two!, have already enjoyed).

I'm not sure how Pat found the time to chat with me, but I'm grateful that he did! He also had time to stop by No Water River to chat and read some poetry... and to answer five questions with Sylvia Vardell, too - another post worth reading!

And can I just say once again... if you like math, poetry, inspired wordplay or any combination of those three (or if you do the math to see how many combos exist!), you should go out and by J. Patrick Lewis's Edgar Allan Poe's Pie.  Period. The end!

2 comments: said...

That sounds wonderful! I might get that for my 6 year old. Thanks!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Greg--I love your enthusiasm and always appreciate your knowledge about your interview-ees.

Pat and Greg, both: Thanks for keeping us on our toes!