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J. Patrick Lewis named new Children’s Poet Laureate

Today J. Patrick Lewis was named the national Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. He’s the third to hold the two-year post, following Jack Prelutsky and Mary Ann Hoberman.

In his article “On Originality in Children’s Poetry” in the May 2005 Magazine, Lewis referenced T.S. Eliot’s observation that “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” Lewis went on to say,

If you read contemporary children’s poetry with some knowledge of the grand tradition from which it flows, only tone deafness can keep you from hearing echoes of the past: the lambent lines of worthies like Christina Rossetti, Langston Hughes, and Robert Louis Stevenson in gentle poems, or the inspired wordplay of David McCord and John Ciardi in nonsense verse. . . .
My own benefactors range from Eliot himself, Auden, Housman, Lear, Carroll, the Carryls—Charles and Guy, père and fils—to many other lesser-known nineteenth- and twentieth-century toilers in poetry, nonsense, and light verse. I happily confess my felonies. When poets stand on the shoulders of their forebears, they should do so with a lightness, not to say airiness, that bespeaks respect for the tradition and an unimpeachable commitment to originality.

Clearly, the man knows what he’s talking about: his knowledge of poetic tradition informs the originality of his own work. Congratulations to Mr. Lewis.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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