Saturday, April 30, 2011


Ever been to a party that started out great, but the people left early or the mood went sour or there was a fight or an unexpected thundershower?

Well. I am sorry that happened here at ye ol' blog. But no one could have anticipated the violence of those tornadoes.

Thank you so much for the sweet emails and phone calls and texts. I am happy to report we are all fine -- but so many others were not so fortunate. So I will save for later the poetic goodness and travel pics and happy stories and instead give you some resources for where to send $$ to help the victims of this tragedy.

And know this: we, as a people, responding to those in need -- that IS poetry. I don't know why it takes a tragedy for people to remember to love each other, but I'm glad that awareness, that shifting of priorities, is often a result of tragedies like this one. If you were here to see the goodness I have seen, your faith would be completely renewed. Let's focus on those scenes instead of the awful ones.

Now for the list:

Send Money To

The Red Cross. Visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

At the BJCC: Donation barrels will be placed at the Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil festival site to collect donations for the Mid Alabama Region of the American Red Cross for Alabama tornado relief efforts. Community volunteers will also be present to assist with the fundraising efforts. Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday, April 29 for the weekend event at the BJCC.

Volunteers of America Southeast is accepting monetary donations to aid victims of the tornadoes. Text VOA to 27722 from your mobile phone or visit to donate online or to send a check. One hundred percent of all monies received by Volunteers of America Southeast will be used by VOA provide food, water, medical, and other humanitarian aid to the people directly affected by this disaster. All funds will be used directly for relief efforts. Volunteers are also needed. For more info or to volunteer to help, call Paul McLendon at 251-422-7729

Any Regions Bank: donations for the American Red Cross’ Tornado Disaster Relief Fund will be accepted from the general public at all Regions Bank branches in the 16 states the company serves.

First Priority is engaging with local churches and other ministries to provide services and supplies to children and youth groups in the areas affected by the tornados. We are accepting monetary donations that will be used 100 percent to provide supplies and services to those affected by the disaster. To donate online, please visit and click on "First Priority Tornado Relief Efforts" or call 205.871.8886. For those 16 years of age or older who would like to help with clean-up efforts (manual labor) in areas affected by the storms, please e-mail: For up-to-date, specific information and volunteer opportunities, visit our blog at

Pet Supplies “PLUS” will be collectioning donations April 29, 30 thru May 1, 2011 to help the tornado victims. Donations can be made at any of our Birmingham, Alabama stores: 421 Greensprings Hwy, Homewood; 1928 Highway 31 South, Pelham; 228 Gadsden Highway, Birmingham; 4606 122 Hwy 280, Birmingham.All proceeds will be given to the Alabama Red Cross and earmarked for Tornado Relief.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


According to, the definition of epigraph is this: inscription, especially on a building, statue, or the like. apposite quotation at the beginning of a book, chapter, etc.

Being a word-loving gal who has long collected quotes from books, speeches and daily life, I happen to be a fan of epigraphs. Here's two of my favorites:

"There's something sweet about digression." - Frank McCourt (I used it in a poem entitled "Two Women Walking Along the Shore of Lake Michigan")

"All secrets are witnessed." - Barbara Kingsolver (It appeared in a poem I wrote entitled "First Day of Winter")

The Best American Poetry blog has chronicled the use of epigraphs is a number of famous poems here.

But not everyone is a fan of epigraphs. I have sat in more than one poetry workshop during which the advice was "cut that epigraph."

Cutting is sometimes necessary when the poem meanders so far from the original kernel that it's no longer recognizable. Or when it becomes so distracting that it's like a puzzle that must be figured out.

But some poems feel deeper and more meaningful because of the epigraph. Besides, it's just plain fascinating to get an extra peek inside the author's process. I mean, how many times have I read a poem and wished to know its origin? An epigraph provides that.

Here's three recent additions to my little notebook that get my poetic juices flowing:

"Childhood is a jungle, not a garden." - Richard Peck

"There is a lot of nothingness involved in the process." - David Diaz

"Human being are unpredicatable. That's the glory of the thing." - Carmen Agra Deedy

What about you? Are you a fan or not a fan of epigraphs?

Friday, April 22, 2011


The first poet I loved was my father. Here we are at yesterday's awards banquet.What a wonderful moment to share with him! I loved looking out into the audience and finding his face. Truly, I will treasure that memory always.

And here is a picture of all the 2011 Book Award winners, minus Tom Franklin, author of CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER:

from l-r: Irene Latham, Ben Windham (Kathryn Tucker Windham's son and co-author, NF - TIN MAN), Charlie Lucas (co-author, NF- TIN MAN)and Han Nolan (YA- CRAZY)

It was SO GREAT to see some of my favorite Alabama librarians! I made some new friends too. WONDERFUL!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


... because Awesome Librarian Carol York of Gadsden Public Library got a grant to buy all these wonderful poetry books!
And last night I got to see Carol and speak to an attentive audience. We even wrote a poem together based on this painting.
(Girl with Lantern by Helen Turner)

Heading to Orange Beach, Alabama, today for the Alabama Library Association Conference where I am speaking at tomorrow's breakfast and accepting the Children's Book Award at lunch. And my father will be there.

Happy National Poetry Month, indeed!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


During a Q & A session last week, one of the kids asked, "What's your favorite word?"

I said,

The kid was confused. He repeated the question. (I guess he was expecting something like supercalifragilistic or somesuch.)

And yes, I have been known to put "yes" in a poem. Is there a word with more possibility?

It's featured in today's poem at Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, entitled "God Says Yes to Me" by Kaylin Haught.

And it's in the title of the book I'm currently reading: OPERATION YES by Sara Lewis Holmes.
This one has been on my nightstand since Sara and I were on a panel together at a book festival last year in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the first chapter, the awesome Mrs. Loupe tells the class, THEATER IS THE ART OF SAYING YES.

I would say, LIFE is the art of saying yes.

What's great about YES is how it's like a door opening. There's mystery and satisfaction and wonder. But at the same time, it makes you hungry, eager, alive. Know what I mean?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Life sometimes throws us challenges and sorrow and heartbreak that simply cannot be expressed in words.

At least that's how it seems. Until poetry rises to the challenge.

Take this Mary Oliver poem, for instance. When a dear poet/friend's daughter was dying, he took great comfort in these words.

Turns out, poetry does the same thing for the happiest, most joyful times in our lives -- the moments we feel most grateful, most connected to others, most immersed in the experience of being human. This poem by Sharon Olds, for instance.

I haven't found my poem yet for today, but I'd like to share some pictures of something that touched me deeply:

Thank You Notes from Mrs. Ward's 7th grade class (Alabama Christian Academy)!

And here are some close-ups of some of my favorites:

Isn't this version of Ludelphia precious?

A Ludelphia Love Poem (to Mama, of course!) -- SO creative!

And these notes specifically about the poetry presentation:

One of the bits of wisdom Beth Ward came out of her childhood with was "if you love someone, tell them."

Or, put another way: express your appreciation. Which is what she did by sending me all these wonderful notes. I will treasure them always. And I vow to do better at expressing my appreciation. Probably in a poem.

What poems speak to you during the highest and lowest moments?

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Someone asked me yesterday, "Where do you get your ideas?" And I said, "ideas are everywhere." Like confetti.

So today I want to share a few confetti moments with you from last week's adventures.

1. This lovely goodie bag from Beth Ward who is the librarian at Alabama Christian School in Montgomery, Alabama. I was so impressed by these 7th graders. They knew LEAVING GEE'S BEND backwards and forwards, and you should have seen the posters they created! Also, Beth knows how to take a theme and run with it! Walking into that coffee house was like walking into Gee's Bend.

But this goodie bag says it all: homemade vanilla flavoring and a tin of cinnamon. With homemade labels. Sounds like a poem to me!

2. Ben Sollee at the Grocery on Home in Atlanta. When my crazy/innovative/sweet friend Matt Arnett invited me to meet and listen to Ben in person, I was thrilled beyond thrilled that I was able to work it into my busy schedule. I mean, I am only Ben's BIGGEST fan. And oh MY, what a show! Ben's songs ARE poetry, whether we're talking lyrics or the way he communicates with that cello. And guess what, friends? He's coming to Samford University's Harry's Coffeehouse April 21! And his new album will be released May 10. DON'T MISS.

3. I always ALWAYS enjoy Fay B. Kaigler's Children's Book Festival in Hattiesburg, MS. It was great to see librarian-friends and make new ones. And of course, at my signing table, the talk often turned to quilts. And when one of the librarians whipped this "Three Little Pigs" quilt out of her bag (she'd been stitching during sessions), I thought, Poem Poem.

Yep, ideas are everywhere. During the next week I will focus on getting my poems ready for the Rebecca Kai Dotlich retreat. Deadline to send 'em in is April 25. I'll also be talking LEAVING GEE'S BEND and poetry at three Mountain Brook elementary schools this week. I fully expect more confetti!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


One year when all three boys were in preschool, we hosted an Easter party at my house. And because I'm a crafty mom, we did a number of take-home crafts that I learned about from Family Fun magazine (back when it was just a print magazine, not the online monster it has become).

Pretty much all craft projects for this age group have three things in common -- and all three can be applied to writing poetry:

1. COLOR -- We're not just talking crayons on plain paper here. It's important that poems move beyond simple description. You can "color" your poems with strong verbs that convey emotion. You can add a splash of figurative language. Or surprise us with a startling image or observation. "From Blossoms" by Li-Young Lee has an abundance of color to admire.

2. CUT -- It takes a while for kids to learn to use scissors. Poets, too, can find part of the process very frustrating. Remember "The Red Wheelbarrow." Start small by cutting articles, transitional phrases, redundant lines. Cut the cliches next. Then look at your first and last stanzas -- poets often spend too much time with set-up AND wrap-up. Try your poem without these stanzas and see how it changes the reader's experience.

3. PASTE -- Now go back and add in new bits. Turn the cliche inside out and upside down. Bring in strong verbs to substitute for adjectives. Work in a stronger image. Insert the "unexpected inevitable." Try Stephen Dunn's "A Secret Life."

And by all means, post that beauty on the fridge!

Want more poetic goodness? Check out Kidlitosphere's celebration of National Poetry Month. And Round Up is at Madigan Reads!

The Poetry Party continues next week -- and I will also be posting pictures from this week's adventures in Montgomery, Atlanta and Hattiesburg! FUN!!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Those who don't write poetry often wonder why anyone would spend time on a market so unpopular and little read. It's not for the fame-hounds or money-hungry, that's for sure. Even when you are lucky enough to have a book of poems.

Consider these quotes:
"There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either." - Robert Graves

"Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." - Don Marquis

Yet, to me, poetry is absolutely essential. And since I posted today at Smack Dab in the Middle about why I write for the middle grade audience, I thought I would continue the theme here, except address the subject of writing poetry.

1. It's short. You can write an entire poem in a day - or at least several drafts of a poem. This makes it perfect for the time-challenged, young mothers, over-extended. Unlike a novel which takes hours upon hours, you can crank out a first draft of a poem in minutes. You can hand your lines to a reader and experience immediate gratification.

2. Word play is fun. When every syllable matters, things get intense. But that's where the joy is. That's where assonance and meter and rhyme come in. Writing poetry is about playing with language. You can even make words up, if you want to. And oh, the satisfaction when you find Just The Right Word -- is there a better feeling in the world?

3. It makes you a life-long student of the world.
When you write poetry, you approach life with curiosity and wonder. Leaves don't ever merely fall to the ground. Some dive, some twist, some jet, some dawdle. Poets are keen observers. We are constantly on the lookout for analogies, patterns and oddities in nature and in relationships. We see things, hear things others don't. Because those are the things we want to put into our poems.

4. It gives you permission to explore all emotional terrain in a safe way. Poetry is compressed emotion. The whole point is to create an emotional experience for yourself and for readers. If you have fears about death, you can put them in a poem. Anger, sadness, joy, despair... poetry is the place for the most sustaining and destructive emotions. Your job to be passionate. This passion is the vehicle that will take you toward your own emotional truths.

5. Different is good. Unlike many other areas of life, when you write poetry you are expected to be a little odd. You might even be celebrated for this oddness. You can embrace all that is eccentric about yourself -- and even cultivate new eccentricities. You can do this on the page or in real life, and no one blinks. Because you're a Poet. And poetry is not bound by a strict set of rules. (The only rule is there are no rules.) It's quite liberating, actually. And allows you to invest more fully in the best poem of all: You, Your Life.

Friday, April 1, 2011


It's here, it's here, it's finally here!

Happy National Poetry Month! Here at Live. Love. Explore! I'll be hosting a month-long Poetry Party with poetry quotes, trivia, craft tips, publishing resources & free books!

Okay. So we'll start with the basics. WHAT IS POETRY?

For some great definitions, check out this book:

I use it whenever I speak to teens or adults about poetry. With entries like "It is far far cries upon a beach at nightfall" and "Poetry is what can be heard at manholes echoing up Dante's fire escape," it'll open your mind!

Another one of my favorite definitions comes from Marianne Moore: "Imaginary gardens with real toads in them."


If you're not sure how to celebrate, the Kidlitosphere can sure fix you up:

Susan Taylor Brown will post Lessons Learned (Mostly About Me) in a Poem-a-Day

April Halprin Wayland will be writing and posting an original poem a day during April.

Liz Garton Scanlon will give us her third year of a Haiku-a-Day every day in April!

Jone MacCulloch will post 30 Days-30 Students: A poem a day from students

A Poem A Day: A Personal Journey

Poetry Postcard Project: Have a student written and decorated poem sent to your
home. Email her at macrush53 @yahoo. com.

Gregory K. will present 30 Poets/30 Days -a whole month of never-before-seen poems by a slew of fabulous poets writing for kids.
*** Greg also has a fantastic, exciting, INSPIRING project in the works: Poetry: Spread the Word!

Jama Rattigan will present her 2nd Annual Poetry Potluck (original poem and favorite recipe by guest bloggers)

Andromeda Jazmon will be doing her fourth year in a row of haiga (original haiku + my photos) at A Wrung Sponge

Janelle at Brimful Curiosities will host a National Poetry Month Kids Poetry Challenge in which kids are invited to create pictures for the poems she posts each Friday.

Biblio File will be featuring a poem or review of a novel-in-verse every day in

Anastasia Suen has set up a blog and a Twitter account for students (of all ages) to write
Haiku (about what they leaned at school that day).
Also on Twitter:

Tricia Stohr-Hunt will host a Poetry in the Classroom series, which will highlight a topic, theme, poet, or book and talk about uses in the classroom.

Stasia Kehoe will be including poetry links, a giveaway of signed arc of debut YA verse novel AUDITION and reviews every Thursday of verse novels.

The Poem Farm will introduce a different poem idea-strategy or poetic technique for children and teachers every day. Each idea-strategy/technique will be followed by links to a few poems from this past year. The blog will also feature poem sharing ideas through “Poetry Peeks” into classrooms.

Lee Wind will present sprinkled-throughout-the-month GLBTQ poetry posts.

Mary Lee Hahn will be writing a poem a day again this year, and posting them at A Year of Reading.

Oh, and today's POETRY FRIDAY ROUNDUP is at The Poem Farm!