Sunday, April 19, 2009

Poetry Saturday: J. Patrick Lewis and Kay Ryan

I had just about the best poetry day ever yesterday! It started at Cover to Cover bookstore with Tim Bowers and J.Patrick Lewis for the launch of their book, FIRST DOG. We heard the story of how talent and timing and luck resulted in the right book at the right...nay, the PERFECT time. FIRST DOG, written by Lewis and one of his daughters (talent), was originally about an all-American mutt who travels the world trying to find his ancestry. When Obama promised his daughters that they could have a dog when they moved to the White House, the manuscript just happened to be in the hands of Pat's editor (timing) when the publisher wished out loud that they had a dog book for this occasion. Tim Bowers, who also lives in central Ohio and who has been friends with Pat for a dozen or more years (Pat and Tim have often wished they could work together, but authors are not often allowed the luxury of picking their illustrator) and who has become somewhat well-known for his dog illustrations, was chosen as the illustrator. (luck, but also talent, and timing: "It's about TIME we got to work together!!") FIRST DOG takes the reader around the world as he looks for the right home. In the course of his travels, he meets dogs of the breeds that originated in various countries and wonders if he could live there with them. (Information about each breed is on the endpapers.) Ultimately, he finds his way back home to the U.S. and notices an article in a newspaper about the search for a dog for the White House. He trots on over to the back door of the White House, and is greeted by two children (seen only from the knees down to the spangly sparkly tennis shoes) who ask their dad if they can keep him. Can you guess what dad says? First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello illustrated by Tim Bowers Sleeping Bear Press in stores April 15, 2009 First Dog bonus tracks: an original First Dog poem by J. Patrick Lewis here, and another by Rebecca Kai Dotlich here. Stay tuned for a YouTube video of Pat reading FIRST DOG to an audience of dogs! Edited to add: the video is up HERE! I had to leave Cover to Cover before the party ended, which was before even half of the autographing line had snake past the signing table. Lucky for me, the staff at CTC and Pat and Tim were understanding and accommodating, so my copy of FIRST DOG and my stack of not-yet-signed-by-Pat poetry books from my classroom collection were waiting for me later in the afternoon. Why the rush? Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate of the United States of America, was speaking at Columbus State Community College!! About the position of Poet Laureate, from the Library of Congress website:
"The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation's official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry."
You might remember that I have a collection of four volumes signed by Poet Laureates -- Billy Collins (from before he was Laureate), Ted Kooser (who was signing at NCTE a few years ago), and two given to me by the best big brother in the world: Richard Eberhart (Laureate in the year of my birth), and Robert Frost (THE Robert Frost!!!). Kay Ryan, whose wit and rhyme and word play I adore, is my fifth Poet Laureate autograph. Ryan's talk was a poetry reading with commentary -- sometimes before the poem, sometimes after, sometimes during. She read each poem twice. She says (and I totally agree) the first reading of a poem is just to find out, "Do I want to read this poem?" The second reading is really the first reading. In her keynote, she gave us a few Key Notes: "You must write what you can at that time." Not very grand, she says, but meant to convey urgency and the acceptance of your work in the moment. (Good advice for living, as well as writing.) She also said that although her writing is very personal -- she writes because something is worrying her -- she is always aware that her writing must be accessible to the public as well. Here's my favorite poem by Kay Ryan, one I loved before she was named Poet Laureate: Turtle Who would be a turtle who could help it? A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet, She can ill afford the chances she must take In rowing toward the grasses that she eats. (the rest is here) You can hear Kay Ryan reading "Turtle" and commenting on her best rhyme ever ("a four-oared" and "afford") in this podcast with Billy Collins and Garrison Keillor. Ryan reads first, so if you only have time for a bit, you'll get to hear her. But if you listen to the whole thing, you'll get to hear her talk a bit more about her Key Note that the poet must attend to her/his reader.


  1. Mary Lee,

    Sounds like you had a perfect day! I'm not familiar with much of Kay Ryan's work. I'll have to get some of her books.

  2. Mary Lee,
    You got to spend the weekend with a great poet and so did I! I am presenting with Joyce Sidman at the IRA in May and we worked on our presentation this weekend.
    Thanks for still reading my blog. I'm glad to be back - new job kicked my ass for a while.

  3. Wow! What a day! You are one lucky gal!

  4. Awesome Mary Lee! That definitely qualifies as :the best day ever! Lucky you dear! :)

  5. Anonymous9:02 AM

    Squee! Pat Lewis and Kay Ryan on the same day? Inconceivable!!

  6. this is a great post! you are really rocking NPM.


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