Reviews for Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry : How to Write a Poem

Booklist Reviews 2008 May #1
Along with easy-to-follow tips for creating verse, haiku, and concrete poetry, the reigning Children's Poet Laureate offers insights into his own thought processes ("Different foods behave in different ways when you squeeze them."), glimpses of his childhood, and personal anecdotes. Appropriately, his brief closing glossary of poet's tools includes entries for poetic license, pun, and irony. To get the creative juices flowing in budding versifiers, Prelutsky tucks in more than a dozen examples from his own work, plus 10 two-and-part-of-a-third-line "poemstarts." Although Ralph J. Fletcher's Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out (2002) is a more wide-ranging guide to poetic techniques and forms, Prelutsky's amiable primer will be more appealing to less-motivated audiences; it will not only entice them into making poetry but also leave them better able to appreciate rhyme and wordplay in general. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2008 April
A poet's advice on tapping your own creative genius

Always carry a notebookand at least two pens. Those are some of the words of wisdom that first-ever Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky imparts in his how-to guide, Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem. Having written more than 70 books of poetry in his 40-plus year career, Prelutsky certainly knows a thing or two about the craft. This book, his first-ever work of prose, combines helpful insights, personal anecdotes and several "poemstarts" to help young writers tap into their own creative talents. The book is being published as a companion to Prelutsky's latest book of poetry, My Dog May Be a Genius.

Prelutsky stumbled upon his craft quite by accident. "In my early 20s I was searching," the author recalls in an interview from his home near Seattle. "I always knew I was going to be doing something in the arts." To that end, he acted, he sang folk songs, he made terrariums, he was a sculptor, a photographer and a potter, but the idea of being a poet never crossed his mind.

At one point, Prelutsky tried his hand at drawing. "I spent more than six months working on a sketchbook containing two dozen imaginary creatures," he says. As an addition to the project, he sat down one night and wrote verses to accompany the sketches. Soon thereafter, a close friend suggested that Prelutsky show the artwork to his editor. "I had no interest in being published. I didn't even know what I was doing," he says, "but I thought, sure, why not?" His friend's editor happened to be legendary children's book figure Susan Hirschman, who took one look at Prelutsky's work and told him that he was "the worst artist" she had ever seen, but that he did have a natural gift for poetry. More than 40 years, 70 books and a Children's Poet Laureate title later, it seems safe to say that Hirschman was right.

Since that serendipitous encounter, Prelutsky has written poems about witches, vampires, werewolves and skeletons, bananas, pigs, flying turkeys and weasels, baby brothers, moldy leftovers and fed-up fathers, and much, much more. All these subjects are presented in a style that reminds us what it is truly like to be a childcarefree and funny, courageous and silly, and, most of all, curious about the world.

As a young boy growing up in the Bronx, Prelutsky had a very active childhood. He would sometimes do childish things, like throwing meatballs out of his sixth-floor apartment window. He could be daring, like the time he and his friend ate worms off the ground. And more often than not, he would do something ridiculous to get himself into trouble, like the time he painted all of his father's underwear with finger paint. "I wasn't the best behaved little boy," Prelutsky admits, but luckily for his legions of young fans, his misbehavior in childhood has led to some very funny poetry.

"You have to use your own life to generate ideas," Prelutsky explains. Indeed, the poet suggests that his readers (and future poets) should draw on things that actually happened to them. "Think about something you did, accidentally or on purpose, that made your parents mad at you," the author suggests. "You'll have lots of fun writing about your own misbehavior."

Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry, however, wasn't quite as fun or easy for Prelutsky as his poetry writing. "They had to wring this one out of me," he says. "Prose is not something I do." In fact, he recalls, "I worked on it for several months, and wrote only two pages!" After those first frustrating months, Prelutsky says, "I decided that the book would not be about poetry per seyou don't need me to tell you what a sonnet or iambic pentameter is." Instead, he preferred to talk about the creative process, how to generate ideas and what to do from there. "Once I got into that, I wrote about 30 pages in a day," he says.

His tips include such basics as "keep your eyes and ears open," "write your ideas down immediately" and "don't be afraid to exaggerate." For Prelutsky, what makes writing poetry interesting are the surprises encountered in the process. "If the creature you have in mind isn't as big as you want it to be, make it bigger . . . alter its shape and hairstyle," he says. "The only limitation is your own imagination."

Prelutsky's own imagination seems boundless. He is currently working on what he calls a "silly" book about birds, inspired by the avian marvels he has seen near his home on Bainbridge Island. Other projects in the works include a lullaby book, a year-round holiday book and a book of scary poems from outer space, just to name a few. "You can never predict when and why an idea is going to happen," the poet says. So, just in case, he always carries a notebook. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 May #2
For readers fond of Prelutsky's style, this volume offers both pointers on how to write similarly silly verse and just what inspired him to do so in the first place. Though some children may find his reminiscences mysterious--after all, his childhood was quite a while back and kids today might not understand just how playing catch with a meatball could ever seem like fun--the connections between his memories and poems are clearly drawn. Prelutsky begins each section with a brief story, then presents a poem or two inspired by the memory or experience; a writing tip that relates to the poem(s) follows. The tips are fairly unremarkable (for example, write about your own experiences or always carry a notebook) and occasionally repetitious. Small black-and-white illustrations and borders decorate some of the pages. While Prelutsky's poetry is generally playful and appealing, the decision to deconstruct it reveals a certain sameness to the works included here that may make emulating his style easier but may also detract from the reader's appreciation of same. (Nonfiction. 8-10) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 March #1

Although Prelutsky's (My Dog May Be a Genius, reviewed above) popularity and his role as the first children's poet laureate will excite hopes for this primer, his advice on writing poetry is limited and disorganized, albeit presented in his usual gleeful voice. He arranges his book in sections that each include an anecdote ("My Father's Underwear," "An Awful, Awful Meal") followed by the poem or poems inspired by the experience and a lengthy "Writing Tip." However, he repeats much the same advice regardless of the ostensible topic. Prelutsky tells would-be poets to keep a notebook and/or to make lists in at least 10 sections; he counsels them to "exaggerate" in five. Sometimes the writing tip offers directions for a specific poem ("Write about your mother's rules and... why they drive you crazy"). A few of Prelutsky's assertions may raise some eyebrows ("A poem doesn't always have to be about something. You're allowed to write a poem about pretty much nothing at all," he opines, going on to say that sound can be as important as meaning), and for the most part his tips, appropriately, apply only to humorous poems. While this is not a book for teachers seeking a comprehensive guide, readers looking for the story behind a particular Prelutsky verse will enjoy the book, as will kids who want to try on Prelutsky's style. Ages 7-10. (Mar.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2008 June

Gr 3-6-- In this engaging book, the popular and prolific Prelutsky relates personal anecdotes and then shows how he created poems from them, in most cases by using comic exaggeration to suit his artistic purposes. Some are from his childhood, like "My Mother Says I'm Sickening," which grew out of playing with his food at the dinner table. ("My mother says I'm sickening/My mother says I'm crude/She says this when she sees me/Playing Ping-Pong with my food.") Others are more recent. Something as simple as buying a banana from a street vendor led to "I'm Building a Bridge of Bananas." Also included are plenty of writing tips, with practical, lively suggestions ideal for the target age group. Prelutsky repeatedly advises readers to keep a notebook and write down every idea, to give ideas time to percolate, to rewrite, and to have fun. Even when defining poetic terms, he is humorous and conversational: "Poetic license is my favorite license," he claims, before going on to offer a simple and understandable definition. The book concludes with a list of "Poemstarts to Get You Started." A good addition for public, school, and classroom libraries.--Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL

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