Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Watcher by Nikki Grimes

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Kay at A Journey Through the Pages for Roundup.

I am away from my desk, spending time with some much-loved ones, but I did want to share about another gorgeous Nikki Grimes book that, like ONE LAST WORD: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, features the Golden Shovel form.

This one is a picture book THE WATCHER: Inspired by Psalm 121, written by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Bryan Collier (Eerdmans).
It's also a narrative. Told in 2 voices. (I know! As if the Golden Shovel wasn't difficult enough to pull of beautifully!) And these characters feel SO REAL. I loved how Tanya, the bully, has a backstory that helps us understand why she does the things she does. (This is a great lesson for anyone creating villains... take time to show us their human-ness!) And I love Jordan's faith, and how he's willing to take a risk.

Here's a sample of each character's voice:


I wake, a hail of hot words hitting my
bedroom wall, like bullets. "God, help,"
I pray, hoping the answer comes
quickly. My heart bleeds from
the sound of my neighbors' war next door. The
sun and I both shrivel, hiding behind the Lord.

- Nikki Grimes


"Welcome, Israel," says our teacher. He
tells this kid with a weird accent to take a seat, but who
is it makes room for this geek? Everyone watches
to see, wonders why it's me who waves him over.
My answer? A snarl that says, "Mess with me, I dare you."

- Nikki Grimes

I do hope you'll give this book a read. You'll be inspired, I promise!

Monday, January 15, 2018

What Would MLK Do?

Today and all days we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who showed us how to change the world in a peaceful, loving way. 
This lesson can be extended to changing our own lives as well -- shine a peaceful, loving light on the ones you meet today. Shine a peaceful, loving light on yourself today.

MLK also showed us the importance of words and the beauty of poetry -- and how repetition can be poetic. Consider this small excerpt from one of his speeches:

We have a power,
greater than guns,
greater than ammunition,
greater than hand grenades.
We have a power.

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is also a "sandwich" structure that can be a fine structure to share and try with our youngest writers.

I'll be thinking about MLK as we move toward to the Horn Book webcast "Exploring Race, Mistakes and Friendship Through Poetry" with Charles Waters, Selina Alko​ and moderated by Roger Sutton, Horn Book editor-in-chief, on Wednesday the 17th at 2:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.

300+ already registered... it's not too late for you to join us! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

On Princesas, Peas, and Agua, Aguita

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit sweet, zany Jan at bookseedstudio for Roundup.

Once upon a time our eldest son confessed that that his biggest complaint about his childhood was that he isn't bilingual.

Well. Since WE are not bilingual, that's kind of up to him, isn't it? :)
But his comment has stuck with me because I, too, would love to be bilingual. (Maybe after I master the cello? Hmmm)

ANYHOW. I wish I could have shared with my son when he was wee THE PRINCESA AND THE PEA by Susan Middleton Elya, illus. by Juana Martine-Neal (G.P. Putnam's Sons). It tells the traditional story, but with a Latino twist: many of the words are Spanish! For instance, this passage:

Mama sneaked away
to the royal jardin
and found a small pea
that was fit for a queen.

Okay, so reader can tell from the picture that jardin means garden... and because of the rhyme scheme, readers learn how to pronounce jardin. (There's also a glossary in the book.) Isn't that brilliant?

Here's another passage:

The girl stretched her brazos
and yawned with her boca.
But the bed felt so lumpy,
like there was a roca.

Readers can tell from the picture that brazos means arms, and we yawn with our mouths, and roca is so similar to rock, it's easy to decode.

Who knew learning another language could be so much fun? Well, it SHOULD be fun, methinks.

There's an additional title by the same team I want to check out called LA MADRE GOOSE.

Another bilingual picture book book I've enjoyed recently is AGUA, AGUITA/ WATER, LITTLE WATER by Jorge Tetl Argueta, illus. by Felipe Ugalde Alcantara (Pinata Books). Readers learn about the water cycle in poems presented in Spanish and English -- in the voice of water.

Here is a passage:

Soy de todos los colores
y no tengo color.
Soy de todos los sabores
y no tengo sabor.
Soy de todas las formas
y no tengo forma
Soy Agua,
soy Aguita

I am all colors
and have not color.
I am all flavors
and have no flavor.
I am all shapes
and am shapeless.
I am Water,
I am Little Water.
What a fun way to learn Spanish! It's the best I can do for now. :)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Business Cards for a New Me!

Every couple of years I create a new business card.

Sometimes I design a card related to a new book release -- the year FRESH DELICIOUS was released, my cards said on the front "Poetry is Delicious." and on the back featured a poem from the book.

Every time I design a card, I incorporate the color RED -- because once upon a time I read an article that reported the results of a business card experiment, and the most memorable cards all featured red.

This year my main reason to create a new card was the quest for accuracy -- I have a new mailing address! And as I have 3 books releasing within a year, I felt that instead of tying the card design to a particular title, I might get more mileage out of a more general approach.

A general approach -- with the color red.


... and... there's a little surprise on the back that I'm not going to reveal, but if we meet in person, please ask me for a card and I'll share it with you! xo

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Flashback to my Favorite Moment of Christmas 2017

Our three sons playing a tune together on the BIG piano.

(Youngest son's fashion statement is actually a survival technique for the itchy patch of poison ivy he acquired hiking around the lake!)

This is an especially special picture because  a) 3 very different sons I adore together  b) last Christmas before oldest son and wife move to New Mexico  c) last Christmas in that house -- #20!

There was a moment a few days after Christmas when I thought I had lost all my pictures -- including this one -- and I had a come-apart. 

As much as this move is exactly what we want, it still comes swaddled in a lot of loss. Downsizing is hard for a sentimental gal like me! But I am learning that all these things -- are just things. What they represent -- their meaning -- is inside me.

One way of coping as I've bagged and boxed, has been to take a picture. A picture doesn't take up any space, and it's a way to hold on to a memory of something. (Which is why I was devastated to think I'd lost all the pictures I've taken recently!) 

Funny thing: I have this memory of my father from just two months before he died, when he said, "sometimes I like the picture better than the thing." He was a lifelong photographer, and in that moment he was asking me to take a photo of him with a pair of pants that were now far too large, before we dropped them at a donation site. 

Papa was teaching me right up to the end, and in fact is still teaching me now! And you know what? I don't need a picture of that. It's imprinted on my heart. xo

Friday, January 5, 2018

Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Hello and Happy first Poetry Friday of 2018! Be sure to visit lovely Catherine at Reading to the Core for Roundup.

It's been a busy week -- and brrrr, COLD. I know I am not alone in this, and certainly not experiencing the worst of it (way down here in the south), but my face has very nearly frozen off on our afternoon walks by the lake! As must as it hurts (to have your face very nearly frozen off), it's also quite alive-making, invigorating, and strangely inspiring. Know what I mean?

So today I have a look at a new book of poems TRAVELING THE BLUE ROAD: Poems of the Sea, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman (a father-son team), and brought to us by Seagrass Press. It's filled with poems by a league of poetic luminaries and takes readers on a series of (difficult) sea journeys from Columbus's voyage through the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. This is not a dolphins-leaping-for-joy kind of book. Instead it illuminates the darkness of the sea, its power, and the cruel/heartbreaking ways humans have experienced it.

I love this quote from Lee's introduction:  "Meticulously crafted poems stir us, shake us, cause us to think, wander, ponder, imagining what might have been, bringing to life imagery only poets can convey via the power of words."
Now there's something to aspire to!

Here are two poems I'd like to share:
Mediterranean Blue
by Naomi Shihab Nye

If you are the child of a refugee, you do not
sleep easily when they are crossing the sea
on small rafts and you know they can't swim.
My father couldn't swim either. He swam through
sorrow, though, and made it to the other side
on a ship, pitching his old clothes overboard
at landing, then tried to be happy, make a new life.
But something inside him was always paddling home,
clinging to anything that floated - a story, a food or face.
They are the bravest people on earth right now,
don't dare look down on them. Each mind a universe
swirling as many details as yours, as much love for
a humble place. Now the shirt is torn,
the sea too wide for comfort, and nowhere
to receive a letter for a very long time.

And if we can reach out a hand, we better.

Seas Seas
by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Seas seas seas seas seas seas seas seas
Seas seas sweeping seas whispering seas
seas seas violating seas massive seas unknown seas
seas seas smooth seas unfathomable seas titan seas
seas seas blue seas warning seas swooping seas
seas seas clinging seas breathing seas
seas seas seas seas seas seas seas seas

Aren't those wonderful? I love the first for its relevance and the way it reminds us of us of our connectedness to things that may be happening far away, but are part of us, too. And the second for its music and truth. I love when poets use sound like this. Beautiful!

And now a poem I wrote some years ago when I was working on a collection of ocean poems that was much more a celebration of sea life. Some of those poems found homes in WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA, which of course features marine life. Others, like the one below, have been swimming unseen in that file for years now. Thank you for reading!

The Ocean Opens Its Arms
by Irene Latham

Come to me, oh hungry ones,
Come to me, explorers.
Come and tip your toes in surf,
then tumble

Let me paint your skin with salt,
adorn your hair with kelp --
Let me show you living shipwrecks
and riotous fields of reef.

Come to me, oh bravest ones.
Dive past your fear and listen:
Let me show you a universe
              than blue.

*all photos taken on our Mediterranean cruise summer 2017 -- the blue road has many faces, doesn't it?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Behold, My 2018 One Little Word!

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! This month we are gathering at Reflections on the Teche to share about the words we've selected as 2018 One Little Word. Please join us! Spiritual Journey Thursday is open to anyone and everyone, whatever your faith.

I *thought* I knew what my OLW for 2018 would be, but then I heard my friend say THIS word, and I knew instantly it was the one!

photo by Eric

BEHOLD. It means to look at something closely, and with enthusiasm. To be filled with wonder. To pay attention. To be present. I want all of those things in my life! It just sounds like a celebration, doesn't it? In fact, I do believe simply by beholding, we create a sacred space through which we may more deeply experience meaning and connection. And then when I read the quote, "We become what we behold," I thought, YES. 'Tis true. And choosing this word will make me more mindful of what I am choosing.

"Behold" brings to mind things that are greater than ourselves -- God, the Universe, a Higher Power. And one of the ways I want to practice beholding in my life this year is with other people, as in "I see you." So many people feel invisible at one time or another... what would happen if we all greeted one another with joy? What if we were to behold each other every single day?

I'm going to try. For I do believe it's true: To love another person is to see the face of God.

Looking forward to reading about everyone else's words... Happy New Year!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Welcome to the World, CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?

Hello and Happy New Year!

Before anything else, a hearty CONGRATULATIONS to the finalists in the 2018 CYBILS Award for Poetry! Yay for great, kid-friendly poetry!

Today is also special because it marks the official release of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship, written by me and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, and delivered to the world by Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing. What a team! I'm so grateful to be part of it.

 In some ways it feels like this book has been out for a while, as Charles and I did some pre-pub promotional events at AASL and NCTE, where the publisher gifted books to excited teachers and librarians. We're so grateful for this early enthusiasm! We have been moved to tears more than once, listening to others' stories about race, mistakes and friendship. It reminds me of John Truby's advice to "write a book that will change your life." This book is a life-changer for me. It forced me to practice being a brave writer... and it brought me a new "Forever Friend" in Charles!

And now the fun continues... we've got school visits and podcasts and webinars... readings and interviews and questionnaires... and readers! In-the-wild readers! That's the best part, every time: connecting with readers.

Charles and me on the panel at AASL
To celebrate the release, Charles and I are doing a second installment of "Two Truths & a Lie." I'm featuring Charles here, along with one of his poems from the book. Head over to Poetry Time to read about me! And here are links to the first installment from cover release day at Charles' Poetry Time blog and Live Your Poem.

Charles Waters!
Of the 3 statements below, two are truths and one is a lie. You guess! Answers below.

1. An author came to Charles' school like Nikki Grimes does in the book. 

2. Charles grew up with a mother and father. 

3. Charles wasn't a very good basketball player in school.

Okay... got it? Know what your answers are? Read on to find out if you're right!

1. Lie. 
"Which is a shame because I daresay I would have gotten into writing a lot sooner if an author had come to my school growing up."

2. True!

3. True! 
"I wasn't horrible at it but I was no Lebron. Sadly, one time in 7th grade my shot did go over the backboard, the trajectory looked good for a hot second until the ball sailed away with the speed of a cheetah."

And now for a poem from the book, on the topic of shoes:

Shopping with Dad

Dad doesn't think shoes have anything to do with
fashion. "Shoes are like your complexion," he says.
"They're supposed to fit you perfectly."
I'd rather get a pair of neon high-tops
with tie-dye laces like I've seen on commercials.
Maybe they make my feet hurt sometimes,
and maybe they don't last as long,
but at least I fit in with my classmates.
Dad hands me a pair of low tops,
no cool design or dynamite laces.
I tie them up, walk around. "Wow," I say.
"This pair feels like I'm wearing slippers."
Dad tells me, "The decision is yours."

- Charles Waters

You can read my poem about shoes over at Poetry Time -- and poems about family dinner, punishment, police brutality, the N word, etc. -- in the book! Thanks so much for reading. Happy 2018! xo

Friday, December 22, 2017

Do Rabbits Have Christmas?

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy's Blog for Roundup.

We are snug together for the holiday weekend, reading and cooking and tending to other holiday joys like last-minute gifting and wrapping and visiting... and reading poetry, of course!

In that spirit I wanted to share with you DO RABBITS HAVE CHRISTMAS? by Aileen Fisher, illus. by Sarah Fox Davies.

Confession: I am not all that familiar with Aileen Fisher's work, and it was Charles Waters who said I must watch the video about her done by Lee Bennett Hopkins and Renee LaTulippe over at No Water River... so I did! I learned Aileen loved nature and did NOT love any sort of public life. I was happy to find her book DO RABBITS HAVE CHRISTMAS at my library, and I've got to say: she had me at that wonderful wonder-ing question of a title! The poem with the same title closes the book -- I will leave you to discover it. Meanwhile I'd like to share these two favorites, both of which (interestingly) have some sewing/garment analogies:


I like days
with a snow-white collar,
and nights when the moon
is a silver dollar,
and hills are filled
with eiderdown stuffing
and your breath makes smoke
like an engine puffing.

I like days
when feathers are snowing,
and all the eaves
have petticoats showing,
and the air is cold
and the wires are humming,
but you feel all warm . . .
with Christmas coming.

- Aileen Fisher

Snow Stitches

Who's the one
in winter's house
who likes to stitch and sew?

Around the meadow's
new white blouse
some dainty footprints go.

No, not a hare.
No not a grouse.
But just a plucky little Mouse. . .

That's the one
whose footprints show
like stitches in the new white snow.

- Aileen Fisher

Happy Holidays to all! Wishing each a rabbit-y winter. xo

Friday, December 15, 2017

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Diane at Random Noodling for Roundup.


How's that for a title? This book is really a throw-back to Shel Silverstein, except with more structure? (I've been trying to figure out how best to describe it!) It's fun, irreverent, witty, and gets high high marks for its kid appeal.

The author actually is very good at rhyming, and I liked how "The Door" poem kept showing up, serving as a narrative thread. And the fun continues through the back matter.. ever heard of an "Outdex"? "For titles that did not make the final cut," of course! (My favorite: "Unpoemed Title".... NOT IN BOOK) Ha! The Acknowledgments page actually has a measure from "not very grateful at all" to "extremely grateful." I especially like one that falls somewhere in the middle: "- That guy who told me this book would never sell. (It kind of motivated me.)"

Probably NOT surprising to regular readers of this blog, my favorite poem of the bunch is not a silly/clever one, but a lovely unexpectedly tender one I'd like to share here:

Under My Dragon's Wing

Nothing can hurt me,
Nothing can sting,
When I'm hiding under my dragon's wing.

No one can find me,
No one can fight.
Under my dragon's wing, all is all right.

I hear them outside,
Asking, "Where can she be?
Look in the car! Now look in the tree!

Check the gazebo,
Peek in the wagon.
Search everywhere - but don't bother that dragon..."

And they'd never guess
That the dragon's my friend
And I'll hide by his side till the day meets its end.

I feel all his strength
And his warmth and his guile,
And I hear them all calling for me... and I smile.

For no one says "No" here,
And no one tells lies,
And here I can dream and I'm just the right size.

I'm all that I want;
I don't need a thing,
Here at home... under my dragon's wing.

- Chris Harris
We all need a dragon's wing, don't we?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Black Naturalist, A Book, and Hair

I've just been reading THE HOME PLACE: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. It's a memoir in which the author talks about his connection to the land and nature, and what it's like to be a black naturalist.

So many passages spoke to me! About being possessed by the land and fascinated by flight. About the power of nature to erase racial (and other divides). About wildness and water, and yes, also the impact of TV!

The author describes how watching ROOTS as a child changed his life. First he was filled with pride -- these were his people. But as the miniseries continued, those feelings got more complicated. He felt out-ed, and "even blacker." He understood, suddenly, racism.

Here's the passage I'd like to share today, in part, because it includes a "hair" experience -- and something I'm learning from early readers of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? is that pretty much everyone has a hair story.

It was the first time I'd had to grapple with race in a significant way. The most racist slights I'd dealt with to that point often took form in people not anticipating or misunderstanding the differences that made me me. I'd learned quickly, for example, that the brittle plastic combs handed out on picture day weren't meant to groom tightly packed black-boy hair. When one of the combs broke off in my little Afro, classmates laughed. Afterward, I asked to wear my hair cut short so that grooming wasn't an issue. And for as long as I can remember others had observed that I “talked white.” This somehow was supposed to make me better or smarter? For a few it make me a “sellout,” an Oreo – black on the outside and white within. But up to that point in my life, I hadn't yet taken a full-on gut punch of racism or truth and questioned my reality.

Roots set me- and the country- straight."
If you love nature -- and even if you don't -- read this book!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Whatever you feel, it's okay.

I've been reading like a madwoman lately -- so many amazing fall releases! One of my favorites so far is THE WAR I FINALLY WON by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This should come as no surprise, as I loved THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE... and everything else that Kim has ever written! See my post from earlier this year on JEFFERSON'S SONS.

Here's the thing about Ada: she has a hard time trusting. Being unloved by her mother -- the one person who is supposed to love you no matter what -- has done quite a number on her feelings of worth and loveability. Even when adoptive mother Susan's love is steadfast, Ada still doubts and does things to self-sabotage.

I am no expert, but I do have loved ones with exactly this issue! Which is why Ada feels so real to me. I love that Kim takes us into the confusion of Ada's emotions. Ada's such a strong heroine -- and yet so needy! It reminds me to reach out to those people in my life who appear strong, but maybe need love. And when they reject my efforts, to reach again. To never stop reaching.

Here's a favorite passage:

"On May 13, 1941, I celebrated my real birthday for the first time. I was twelve years old.

I hadn't known my birthday until I'd found my birth certificate last September. Susan had made up dates to put on our identity cards. She had celebrated our pretend birthdays too.

Mam never celebrated birthdays. Mam never celebrated anything.

Maggie was back at school, but Ruth and Jamie picked flowers from the hedgerows and covered the breakfast table with them. Susan gave me a piece of bacon and a whole fried egg for breakfast. She and Lady Thorton stacked presents by my plate – new books, three of them.

It was too much. Church-steeple panic crawled across my skin. I handed the bacon to Jamie. I pushed the books out of sight. I made myself choke down the egg. Susan would be angry if I wasted it.
I should have been used to birthdays. Man should have celebrated my birthdays.

“It's okay,” Susan said, watching my face. “Whatever you feel, it's okay.” She put her arms around me.

“Why didn't she love me?” I whispered.

“Because she was broken,” she said. “Remember that. She was broken, not you.”

I had the bad foot, but the foot worked better now. The foot wasn't the reason. Something else must be wrong with me. Most mothers loved their children.”"

Please don't miss this wonderful book!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Let it Snow!

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Lisa at Steps and Staircases for a tumblr Roundup.

We woke this morning to snow, which is always a newsworthy happening in Alabama! In anticipation, last night many schools instated a 2 hour delay. Now that the snow has actually arrived, some schools are calling it a complete "snow day." Love it!

Of course I had to take a few photographs... tears blurred my eyes because watching the snow drift so gently down fills me with hope for the world.

And then I remembered two new snow books I want to share:

WHEN THE SNOW FALLS by Linda Booth Sweeney, illus. by Jana Christy

This one features a sleepover with a lively Grandma and tight two-word sentences with a rhyming pattern. Here's the opening:

When the snow falls...

Frost paints.
Skies gray.
Windows sparkle.
Snow? Yay!

A lot of strong rhymes and great energy make this one score big points in the re-readability charts.

Also, SNOWBALL MOON by Fran Cannon Slayton, illus. by Tracy Bishop. I confess I haven't read this one yet, just some teasers, but I loved Fran's middle grade novel WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS, and this one promises rhyming wonder, and hello "snowball" moon! Isn't that brilliant?! I'll never think of a winter full moon now as anything else. 

If I was really on top of things I would share a fresh-penned original snow poem, but hello, it's snowing, I'm living my poem today! 

I did, however, enter "snow" into the search engine and found a few snowy lines I wrote who-knows-how-many years ago on a morning just like this one. Maybe I will work with them later today? Meanwhile here they are in all their rawness:

When it snows
you prop the window sash
with a book, 

invite the clean air inside
where you warm the piano bench
without him.

The still air ghosts into the room
and carries out with it 
strands of Schubert.

Your eyelids drift as snowflakes,
your cheeks pinken
as your fingers dance --

stillness needs music 
and music needs stillness,
and if he asked you to come back,

you would.

- Irene Latham
Happy Snow Day! xo

Thursday, December 7, 2017

One Last Look at Abundance, My 2017 One Little Word

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! On this, our final roundup for 2017, we are discussing our experiences with our One Little Words.

My word for 2017 has been ABUNDANCE. When I selected the word I could not have imagined what abundance was in store for me -- I didn't know we would get a lake house and travel to far-flung spaces and write so, so many words... I didn't know I'd spend so many hours poring over old letters and photographs, emptying drawers and filling up boxes to donate or give away... I didn't know the wide expanse of emotions I'd experience this year -- grief and joy and love and hope and despair ... what an overflowing year this has been!

It's interesting to me how one of the big things I've learned this year is about how little I need. And how much easier it is to enjoy my life when it is simple. Even something like getting dressed to go somewhere is a better experience when the closet isn't jammed up with so many someday-clothes. I like the simplicity that comes from having less, and how this opens me to the abundance of other things: nature, time with loved ones, my writing.

One of the lessons I find I must learn over and over again is my own worth -- I am enough. This year's focus on abundance, on trusting that I will --and have been-- so well cared for in my life, in spite of our because of hardships, has brought me peace and confidence. I AM enough. I am exactly where I need to be. It's the strangest thing how what seems like such a simple shift turns out ot be monumental in how I engage in my own life!

photo by Eric
Something I can always fall back on, something I constantly return to, is gratitude. How powerful to see -- and shape!-- one's life through a sense of abundance. All those pesky problems and worries shed themselves with no thorns to cling to. Life flows, like water, which brings us back to the lake, our lake house, how this thing we didn't plan for, couldn't have anticipated, has changed us in such profound ways! So much so that we've decided to move to the lake permanently. Why wait?

So, oddly, sitting in gratitude and abundance this year has helped me believe that I, we, deserve this abundance not just on the weekends, but all the time. And it is right there waiting for us. All we have to do is open ourselves to it.

Here's a poem from Linda Gregg's book THE SACRAMENTS OF DESIRE:

Singing Enough to Feel the Rain
by Linda Gregg

I am alone writing as quickly as I can,
dulled by being awake at four in the morning.
Between the past and future, without a life,
writing on the line I walk between death
and youth, between having and loss.
Passion and bravery absolutes, and I don't
have anything but the memory of Aphrodite's
elbow pushing up through the dirt, golden
with the sunlight on it. I am far from there
in a hurry not to miss the joining,
struggling to explain that this worse time
is important. It is just past autumn now
and the leaves are down, wet on the road.
Some of Her shoulder showed, but not enough
to tell whether She was facing my way.
Any of it is most of it, as any part
of Cezanne is almost all of Cezanne. Now
is so late in the world that there is silence.
Heart is as beautiful as ever. What can we
expect of a woman buried in the earth?
Most of it is enough. Some of it is almost
enough. Just as I am a body too, and if he
leans down over me there will be a world.
A train goes past making an incidental sound.
Something is nourished by the loss. An ending
and beginning at once. The world does not sing,
but we do. I sing to lessen the suffering,
thinking of the factory girl Hopkins said
lived a long time on the sacrament alone.
But I also sing to inhabit this abundance.


2018 Spiritual Journey Thursday Sign Up

Please sign up to host next year! Please leave your chosen date, blog url, and topic in comments. (If we are not yet email buddies, please send me an email: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com so I can get in touch with you!)

January 4 - Margaret (choosing your One Little Word)
February 1 - Donna (the heart)
March 1 - Karen
April 5 - Carol
May 3 - Violet (Special Days)
June 7 - Margaret (summer)
July 5 - Doraine
August 2 - Pat
September 6 - Donna
October 4 - Jan
November 1 - Karen
December 6  - reflections on 2018 One Little Word with Irene at Live Your Poem
Finally, please leave your link below!

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Gee's Bend Christmas

One of the sweet moments for me at NCTE in St. Louis was attending the Awards Luncheon and hearing THE QUILTS OF GEE'S BEND by Susan Goldman Rubin named an Orbis Pictus Honor book. I couldn't wait to get home and order a copy for myself!

And I *meant* to mention the book in my talk later that day, that focused on how the practice of poetry influenced my writing of LEAVING GEE'S BEND.

Me, speaking.
LEAVING GEE'S BEND actually started as a poem entitled "The Quilts of Gee's Bend." That was the first piece of writing I did as I was first feeding my obsession with the quilts and the quilters and their stories.

Later, when I was struggling to find the narrator for my story, I used poetry to learn more about Ludelphia -- and that exercise was the key to me finding my way. I used George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" and allowed Ludelphia to write her own version. Here it is:

I Am From

by Ludelphia Bennett

I am from Mama’s wide hips
and a sliver of hickory
that went flying from Daddy’s ax,
then had to go and land
square in my eye.

I am from a cornshuck mattress,
afterbirth buried beside the cabin,
newspaper plastered walls,
rain running straight through the roof,
Aunt Doshie and broken eggs.

I am from a curve in the Alabama River
orange dirt that likes to settle
right between your toes,
cotton and sorghum and corn
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot on Sundays.

I am from quilts strung on a line
a triangle of denim over my right eye
scraps of cloth and feed sack,
the sash torn from Mama’s calico apron
and ripped into strips.

I am from Every quilt tells a story
Ruben’s fishing pole
and Etta Mae’s yellow dress,
Big Mama’s story
about them red flags on the slave ship.

I am from Delilah braying
like there’s no tomorrow
and in my pocket a needle
and thread and bits of cloth
giving me a reason to keep on going.

Also, my background as a poet has everything to do with my (heavy!) use of figurative language in LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I shared with the group a book gifted to me by Homewood Middle School entitled "The Language of Gee's Bend." Even I hadn't realized how much figurative language was in that book!

Here are some examples:
Mrs. Cobb... looked just like a hog that's done ate too much.

Then the door swung wide creaking like a chorus of frogs.

A sharp breeze caught the tail of her apron and made it fly up like a kite. 

"Delilah can wait just a minute," Mama said, her voice coming out jagged as a saw blade.

She was holding herself tall and stiff, her face blank as a cotton field that's ready for seed.

My mind was empty as a plate that has been licked clean.

Her voice turned to syrup.

Her hair... was caught up in the short braids she liked, the ones that always reminded me of blackberry brambles.

It was like the sky opened up and poured sunshine out of a honey jar.
Me, quilting.
So, obviously, poetry and Gee's Bend is a big part of my writing story, and my LIFE story. Which is why I am thrilled to see this beautiful book receiving recognition and hopefully finding a bigger audience. It features many of the FSA photos that I share when I give presentations. It includes a pretty comprehensive history of the area -- the struggles and successes -- told in an accessible way. It's got actual words from actual quilters. And there's a 'how to make a quilt square' tutorial in the back. I so hope this inspires some young folks to learn to quilt!

And guess what book is the perfect companion? Yep. LEAVING GEE'S BEND. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Poetry Friday: Let's Go to London!

Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for Roundup.

I've been reading A LOT. See this week's earlier post on MOZART'S STARLING, which includes a wee interview with my bird-loving nephew Matt (and Frosty).

Also, Shelf Awareness did a lovely write-up about CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? You can read it here.

Thanks to the CYBILS, I have quite a few poetry titles I'm excited to share with you, including today's feature: ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS by Patricia Toht, illustrations by Sam Usher.

wee Daniel, our London
traveling companion!
It's been more than twenty years since I was last in London, and this book took me right back there! The book begins with a family boarding one of those famous hop-on/hop-off double-decker buses to explore the sights. And then there are poems about Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, museums. The River Thames poem weaves across a double-spread. We find ourselves standing at the famous Globe Theater. There's even a seek-n-find poem at Trafalgar Square! There are lots of strong analogies and unexpected images... I have quite a few favorites! But since London is known for rain, I'd like to share with you the Piccadilly Circus stop:

by Patricia Toht

Sun slips,
dips behind clouds.
A drip.
A spritz.
Carts sport spots.
Watery window polka dots.
Fatter drops
in plips and plops,
bounce off bright
umbrella tops.
Window ledges,
awning edges
trickle with streams.
Rain fills pavement
cracks and seams.
Waters flow.
Puddles grow.
Traffic splashes --
spills a chill
that climbs your spine.
Just in time,
you find a door.

.... and also the Tower Bridge poem, which employs an epistolary form and features the voice of the Bridge itself:

by Patricia Toht

Dear Visitor,
I grow weary of being
called by the wrong name.
I tell you, 'London Bridge'
and I are NOT the same!
Years ago dismantled, he
was shipped across the sea.
And without a doubt,
he's not as GLORIOUS
as me.
I decorate the city like a
fancy wedding cake,
while unadorned,
he plainly spans
an Arizona lake.

      Tower Bridge

I really want to share with you the final poem in the book, which reminds me of the book GOODNIGHT MOON, but I'm out of time, so you will have to check the book out for yourselves. :) Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mozart's Starling, Matt's "Frosty" and a Wild Summons

I've just read MOZART'S STARLING by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

In it Haupt introduces us to Star, Mozart's pet starling, and to Carmen, her own pet starling -- and she presents some insights about how life with a starling might have impacted Mozart's music.

Here are some things I learned:

If you Google 'America's most hated bird,' the top results all refer to starlings. Because starlings aren't native to America and have run off other birds. They are invasive and aggressive, and they are EVERYWHERE.

When Star died (after living with the maestro for 3 years), Mozart wrote an original poem and staged a funeral.

Mozart's piece "A Musical Joke" (a playful piece with a wildness that critics never warmed to) sounds very much like a starling's song. And it's the only piece by Mozart that the author's starling Carmen responds to with excitement.

Mozart and his bird actually had a lot in common. Here's Haupt:

"Both maestro and starling shared an astonishing likeness in talents (mimicry, vocal play, musical gymnastics), personality (busy-ness, silliness, flirtatiousness, tomfoolery), and social priorities (attention-seeking!)."

Haupt loves birds. Clearly. How else could one tolerate -- and love -- a pet starling? They are social and fragile and loud. And they poop a lot. Not for me, I say! Not for me!

But. My almost-15 year old nephew Matt has a pet cockatiel. His name is Frosty. My sister says that Frosty perches on Matt's shoulder while he (Matt) sleeps!

Here's Matt:
"I loved the uniqueness of having a pet bird and I enjoyed the idea of an independent pet. Frosty has an attitude of a human -- he’s a human stuck in a birds body. The most important thing to know about
Frosty, feasting.
having a bird is that all they want is for you to feed them and love them. Frosty
 sings all the time but mostly when he’s happy. I love it when he whistles 'pop goes the weasel.'"

Thank you, Matt, whom I adore!

And now back to Mozart. Not only did Wolfgang enjoy musical play, but also wordplay. Here's a fun Jabberwocky-ish excerpt from a letter Wolfgang wrote to his wife:

"I have received reprieved your highly esteemed writing biting, and I have noted doted that my uncle gafuncle, my aunt slant, and you are all well mell. We too, thank god are in good fettle kettle. Today I got the letter setter from my Papa Haha safely into my paws claws."

More from Haupt:
"Poet Gary Snyder wrote that wildness is 'a quality of one's own consciousness,' an elemental characteristic that ran deep in Mozart -- he had a way of being, a habit of imagination that belonged int eh realm of wildness and nature, regardless of where he lived. It is a quality that, at some level, we all share."

Here's another quote I love from the book, about being a writer:

"People always ask how I get the ideas for my books; I think all authors hear this question. And, at least for me, there is only one answer: You can't think up an idea. Instead, an idea flies into your brain - unbidden, careening, and wild, like a bird out of the ether. And though there is a measure of chance, luck, and grace involved, for the most part ideas don't rise from actual ether; instead, they spring from the metaphoric opposite - from the rich soil that has been prepared, with and without our knowledge, by the whole of our lives: what we do, what we know, what we see, what we dream, what we fear, what we love."

And I love Haupt's conclusions about "the river beneath the river" -- that something below the surface of any art that teases, prickles, stuns...
art by

"And what is this wild summons? What art is asked of us?" 

To live our poems, methinks.

Says Haupt: "To wander paths, nibble purslane, notice spiders. To be rained upon. To listen with changed ears and sing back what we hear."

Read this book! It's a good one. And if you're a bird person, I'd love to hear more about that in comments!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Movie Monday: COCO

One of our Thanksgiving family traditions is to see a movie together. This year the pick of the day was COCO. And I loved it!

I was worried at first -- the trailers we saw were all ho-hum predictable... until the very last one: THE INCREDIBLES 2. (How often does the quality of the trailers represent the main feature? In my experience, quite a lot.)

By the way, is it just me or was THE INCREDIBLES a long, long time ago? (2004!!!) Well, this trailer filled me with so much joy that I have to embed it here for all of you to enjoy as well. I think the sound featured in this trailer may be the best one ever. It may me weep with laughter and joy! Watch it. You'll see (hear).

And now back to COCO. Take a little boy who loves music and throw in a family ban on music and dia de Muertos, and you've got a rich and visually stunning movie.

I loved our young hero and felt invested in his adventure across the bridge... and most of all I was touched by how this movie showed so much of the magic and warmth of the Mexican culture -- especially in its appreciation for the elderly.

Here is a picture we don't see often in American movies: great-grandmother Coco beloved and valued, a vital part of this multi-generational family. No putting Grandma in a corner here! No stashing her in a nursing home! Her life is important, and all the younger members love and include her, even as she nods off and forgets things.

Grandma Dykes - cooking, of course!
(She never did like her picture taken.)
It made me wish for one more kiss on my Grandma Dykes' papery cheek.... I could have done more. I wish I'd done more.

And the movie also filled me with the spirit of all my loved ones who have already crossed that bridge. I miss them, yet they are here with me.

Beautiful, meaningful movie. Hats off to Disney for bringing a quality multicultural film into the mainstream. Go see!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

This Choir #NCTE17

Charles Waters, (editor) Carol Hinz,
Irene Latham
It's been a few days now since I returned from NCTE, and I am still as stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey -- with gratitude. And poetry!

I'm grateful for all the words I heard, the old friends I hugged, the new friends I made... along with so many lovely educators/humans, I met for the first time 3 poetry heroes: Marilyn Nelson, Ralph Fletcher, and Allan Wolf!

Charles Waters and I signed books and presented together and plotted future adventures. I met with some of my editors, presented alongside people I admire, and came away exhausted and recharged.

Jeannine Atkins, Irene Latham, Mary Ann Sacco,
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Kim Doele, Emily Callahan
Here are a few favorite moments that somehow made it into pictures:

Spotting a new friend sporting rainbow shoelaces in support of diversity and individuality and CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?

Witnessing Jeannine Atkins meetup with one of Edmonia Lewis's sculptures at St. Louis Art Museum. (Edmonia is the heroine of Jeannine's beautiful verse novel STONE MIRRORS.)

Seeing my poem "Music Teacher" in SCHOOL PEOPLE, a book of poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrations by Ellen Shi and published by WordSong/Boyds Mills Press -- my first time to have a poem included in one of Lee's anthologies!

Photo-op with the one and only Nikki Grimes! Nikki appears in our book, so Charles and I were delighted to present to her a copy AND also collect her signature on the pages in our reading copies where she appears. Joy!

Charles Waters, Nikki Grimes,
Irene Latham

The Awards Luncheon. How much do I love attending this luncheon?! This year Lerner sponsored Charles and me at tables, where our seat-mates got free copies of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?... and oh wow, what a great group! "Can I touch your hair? HAIR, No!" (You had to be there. :) And then all the amazing words from Marilyn Nelson and Jason Reynolds and Melissa Sweet... I walked away so full of the book-love! (And the cake wasn't bad either.)

And now, here's a poem by Rabia of Basra, and female Islamic saint (who preceded Rumi by 500 years) from a book called LOVE POEMS FORM GOD, edited by Daniel Ladinsky.

This Choir

So amazing this choir of
socks, shoes, shirt, skirt, undergarments,

earth, sky, suns, and

No wonder I too, now,
sing all day.

- Rabia

To my U.S. friends, Happy Thanksgiving! xo