Thursday, September 3, 2009

Four Syllables, That's All It Takes.

I admire brevity in poems, probably because I tend to be long-winded and need editing. I did once write a 14-line sonnet where each line had only three syllables, and it rhymed - that's as close as I've come to diamond-level compression. But some people KNOW what a short poem is. For Poetry Friday, I want to post a poem I just read in J. Patrick Lewis's new book, SPOT THE PLOT: A RIDDLE BOOK OF BOOK RIDDLES (illustrated by the very talented Lynn Munsinger, please see note at the end.) I was going to wait until the book actually appeared in bookstores (release date is October) but no, I can't wait. Here's the concept: Each poem in the book describes a character from a familiar children's book, fairy tale or nursery rhyme. And here is the poem Pat wrote, all four syllables of it (and it rhymes!):


No, I'm not going to tell you the answer - it's a riddle, so you have to figure it out. But I am saying this: I wish I'd written it.

Maybe you've noticed I go on and on about J. Patrick Lewis. That's because he knows what he's doing, he's a pro, he honors both the silliness and the sobriety of words, he knows what tickles a kid's funny bone, he's got the courage to be political (you can see some of his political ruminations over at Elaine Magliaro's blog, Political Verses. ) I love Pat's work. When I was little, my dad played around a lot with language, loved to make puns (loved to listen to us groan about them.) One day my dad told me he had memorized a poem, asked me if I wanted to hear it, and I was pretty amazed - he sounded so serious -I was prepared for something elegant. This is what he recited:


Had 'em.

Four syllables (and it rhymes!) and it makes sense. I loved it. So when I read Pat's poem, I thought of my dad, and I thought of my sonnet, and I laughed. Hooray for fun, and hooray for brevity.

Just look at the girls laughing in the photo below. And look at Pat's pleasure in their laughter - that's a joy to see.

Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Kelly Herold at Crossover.
Be sure to check out what all PoeFri's are up to.

And note re: Lynn Munsinger - I would like a pair of flannel pj's with the same designs she uses for the endpapers of SPOT THE PLOT - birds, cows, pigs, bunnies, cats, bears, dogs, magic wands, clocks, balloons, straw hats....


  1. I want those PJ's, too!

    (Hear us publisher, hear us.)

    Pat is all of this and more.

    Thank you Julie for this great

    SPOT THE PLOT is a must have.

  2. I apologize if my comment
    show up like 4 times.
    I think (surprise) I've
    managed to mangle my posting.

  3. I join you in calling for endpaper pajamas - the book is a complete pleasure, cover to cover, for both the art and the art (poetry and pictures). And Pat - and his poems - are both well worth fangirling over (I'm trying hard to hold out a bit longer on talking about Spot the Plot, but with it being the complete package, it is HARD.)

    My grandfather liked to recite poems as well, and would have loved the Adam poem. I still recall his oratorial recitation of "I eat my peas with honey":

    I eat my peas with honey
    I've done it all my life
    Although it might sound funny,
    It keeps them on my knife.

  4. Yes, I too admire this sort of word play... love the pic of the girls enjoying the words... that's what I wish people would think of when they hear the world "poetry."

  5. jorJulie,

    I'm with you! I so enjoy the clever wordplay in Pat's light verse and children's poetry. I love SPOT THE PLOT. It reminds me of SHRINKLITS--I think that was the title of the book. (I've misplaced my copy of it.)

    Pat's been extremely generous. He's allowed me to post a number of his poems at Political Verses.

    I like making puns myself and making people groan. My elementary students groaned a lot in the course of a school year in my classroom.

    Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

  6. That one is MY favorite poem in the whole book, too! The Pinocchio poem comes in second.

  7. This one's fabulous, Julie--this is my favorite book of Pat's out of the last 5 or 6 I've seen (which must emcompass, what, 6 months' worth of publishing in PatWorld?). So glad you shared early. I'm waiting until October, but it's difficult!

    Oh, and you compress beautifully! Maybe your poems aren't always short, but every word is always necessary, every line stuffed full of delicious goodness:>)

  8. Jumping in late, I know, but this was also among my favorites in the book as well. I am perpetually blown away by Pat's never ending ability to surprise and amuse and entertain me, I must say.

    And Elaine - it is Shrinklits, by Maurice Sagoff. They were also an inspiration for my own Oddaptations. My fave stanza in them, I think, comes from his shrinking of Beowulf:

    Monster Grendel's tastes are plainish./Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.