Friday, June 27, 2014

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy for Roundup.

It's been a busy summer so far... all good stuff! This past week I watched my son perform LIVE at a music/arts festival, met friends and readers at the Birmingham Zoo, taught a writing workshop, and today I am at a quilting event! Hurray for summer! Also, I've been doing lots and LOTS of reading. (See my #bookaday posts!)

AND I finally got to A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL by Marilyn Nelson with illustrations by Phillippe Lardy.

This may be a picture book, but it's very sophisticated in language, and heavy (obviously) in content. And it's sonnets! I would suggest tackling it as a poem a day, or else it's likely to be overwhelming to young readers. I like how the illustrations are simple compared to the text -- it helps the reader take it all in a little easier. This book won a ton of awards, which, I think, is a good message to we striving poets to go ahead and take on those heavy subjects, if our hearts call us to do so.

And now, a poem:

Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death.
by Marilyn Nelson

Like the stars, which fluttered their quicksilver wings.
Like the unbroken song creation sings
while humankind tramples the grapes of wrath.
Like wildflowers growing beside the path
a boy was dragged along, blood spattering
their white petals as he, abandoning
all hope, gasped his agonizing last breath.
Like a nation sending its children off to fight
our faceless enemy, immortal fear,
the most feared enemy of the human race.
Like a plague of not knowing wrong from right.
Like the consciencelessness of the atmosphere.
Like a gouged eye, watching boots kick a face.

Wow, huh? The next poem is titled with the last line of this one... which is the pattern throughout the book. And then, the final poem is comprised of the first lines of the 14 preceding sonnets in the collection. Now that requires some wordsmithing skill!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Say Hello to DON'T FEED THE BOY in Paperback!

So today is the officlal release of DON'T FEED THE BOY in paperback. Woohooo! Square Fish has done a lovely job with it -- there's a Discussion Guide, a Zoo Bee, and Q&A with little ol' moi. I love it!

To celebrate, I am hosting ZOO DAYS at Birmingham Zoo.
Wednesday, June 25, 9 am
Sunday, July 20, 1 pm

We'll meet at the Picnic Pavilion (where Whit first speaks to Stella), and then we'll go inside the gates for a tour of all Whit's favorite spots at the zoo. Also, my guests will get a special sneak peek of my new book DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST
 Zoo admission required. 

For those of you far-flung and unable to get to the Birmingham Zoo, I invite you to visit your own local zoo. Take a picture of YOU at the Zoo (bonus entry for YOU at the Zoo with a zoo animal!), like this one, taken at my very first trip to the London Zoo (I'm the one on the steps, and that's my brother Ken, Mom, sister Lynn and brother Stan):

You can send it to me via social media:
 (where I will be creating a special board). 

Everyone who sends in a pic will be entered in a drawing to win a classroom set (25 copies) of DON'T FEED THE BOY in paperback! Entries accepted June 1 - July 31. Random drawing & winner announced August 1.


Thursday, June 26, 2-4 pm, I will be teaching a WRITING WORKSHOP for students at Trussville Public Library
. Hope to see you!

and finally, writers & artists, don't forget....

DEADLINE JULY 1 for The Electra Awards! A joint project of Birmingham Arts Journal
 & Alabama Power Company, we are offering a contest with cash awards in celebration of The Power of Art to Ignite, Delight, & Unite! Prose, poetry and art categories, deadline July 1. More information here.
Songwriting Workshop for Students, 4 consecutive Thursdays beginning July 10, taught by ASFA instructor Jason Slatton, at DISCO
 (Desert Island Supply Co, 5500 1st Ave. N, Birmingham), 10 - 11:30. Spaces limited... contact me to sign up!

Monday, June 23, 2014

#bookaday Week Five

Finally, finally I read SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Arthur Ransome! It reminds me of books I loved when I was young, the way it meanders in and out of adventure (BETSY-TACY & TIB, anyone?). Who doesn't love a deserted island overrun with kids? :) I'm not sure I will read the rest of the series, but I am happy for the introduction to the Swallows and Amazons.
 CURSES AND SMOKE by Vicky Alvear Shecter. I loved CLEOPATRA'S MOON, and this one has the same amazing attention to historical detail. Maybe it helps that Vicky traveled with her mother to Pompeii while writing this book?? Convincing love story, tragedy, hope... I'm there! The book takes a look at freedom and all the different definitions it can have, and warning: the ending will break your heart! But, then, you sorta expect that with a book about a volcanic eruption, don't you?
CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge. I've been listening to this one, thanks to SYNC's free summer download series -- which I have to thank Mary Lee for sharing about, or else I'd never have known! It's about a girl whose life purpose is to kill the demon she's forced to marry at age 17. Of course things don't go as simply as that... I've read some reviews that compare the book to BEAUTY & THE BEAST. This book's heroine Nyx is far more complicated. Also, the writing is lush and magical. So, if you like lush and magical, you should definitely give it a read (or listen). :) 

STOLEN PONY by Glen Rounds. I picked this one up at a library book sale -- and as I am ever a fan of horse stories -- well, of course I enjoyed it! It's really about an "unlikely friendship" between a blind pony and a dog. You can tell the author has spent a lot of time around horses, and I was eager to learn how things ended up for our two heroes. Nice!

Next week will feature whatever I get to after THE THICKETY by J.A. White, which is what I started reading last night. :)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poem Swap #1: FOX WRITES A NOTE by Tabatha Yeatts

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Check it Out for roundup! I am super-excited because this week I received in the mail poem swap #1 from none other than the Swap Queen herself, Ms. Tabatha (Fox) Yeatts!

Take a look-see:

Fox Writes a Note
by Tabatha Yeatts

Riddle me thiS,
riddle me that. WraP
up your words witH
the purr of a cat. I
am ready to play. CaN
you send a map? Love, FoX.

Fox is a clever one, isn't she? Love that end-line acrostic... and Tabatha's drawings are adorable. Funny thing: I almost wrote my poem about a fox! Then I remembered the lynx... which, holy coincidences, rhymes with sphinx. :)

This swap thing makes me so very happy. I'm busy working on #2 and will get it in the mail shortly. Can't wait to see what (and from whom!) lands in my mailbox next. Many many thanks to Tabatha for this wonderful tradition. xo

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#bookaday Week Four

So, you may have noticed there was no #bookaday Week Three post. That's because I was vacationing. And not the lay-around-and-read variety of vacation! Which means my Week Four post is really weeks 3 AND 4, but who's counting? I'm proud to tell you about the following books:

CAMINAR by Skila Brown. This one is a verse novel in which the poems are more like actual poems than broken-up prose. I like that! There's even a reverso poem. Nice use of the form to tell the story of Carlos' journey during the political turmoil in 1981 Guatemala that resulted in the death of many innocent people. I learned a lot, and the book wasn't bogged down by the heavy subject matter. It's an active story, and the reader cares what happens.

Also, it made me want to write a nahuales poem. What are nahuales"spirit animals who guide us in life, keep us/safe." Carlos has a spirit animal. I think I know which one. :)

Here are the closing lines in a poem near the end of the book called "The Voices I Heard."

"A person's voice cannot be buried
deep into the earth.
it will walk on forever, as long
as there are open ears."


REBEL BELLE by Rachel Hawkins. Rachel is a fellow Alabamian, and yes, I have sat with her in a tea room on more than one occasion! She's far more belle than I will ever be, and this book is Rachel at her best. Fun, smart, real (and that's saying something when you consider there's Paladins and Mages involved!). Slap on a tiara, bring on the oh-so-polite euphemisms at get reading already! One of my favorite quotes in the book, because it feels true of many o' southern lady: “You act like you're perfect, but inside, you're totally screwed up.” Yup.

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume. Okay, so this book was first published before I was born, and I remember reading it as a pre-teen. Before re-reading it, the part I recall most vividly was the part about Margaret wanting to get her period. And yes, that's still there – along with a host of other issues about family and religion and friends and growing up and breasts-- all of which resonate so deeply and truly... and came back to me as I was reading! I can even remember reciting the “We must, we must, we must increase our bust” with my sister, and have a few spin-the-bottle party scenes from my own pre-adolescence. I remember getting a training bra before I needed any such contraption. I remember being envious of my more-grown-up friends. And oh how I loved my grandmother! Wow, did Judy Blume nail it. No wonder the book is in its gazillionth printing.

THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON by Stephen King. This is the first Stephen King book I ever read -- and it was recommended to me by my father who is an integral part of my writing life. It's been years since I read it. And then, I rode with my son to Walmart, and when we were unloading the groceries from the trunk, there was the book (he'd read it last year for summer reading). And I was like, oh, wow, I need to read that again! And so I did. And you know what? (sorry about all those "ands"!!) IT HELPED ME SOLVE A PROBLEM IN MY WIP. (Hello, it's a survival story!) Don't you love when that happens??

Next up, among others: CURSES & SMOKE by Vicky Alvear Schecter!

Friday, June 13, 2014

UBIQUITOUS: Celebrating Nature's Survivors by Joyce Sidman

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! I am just back from Disney World and my first-ever visit to the land of Harry Potter at Universal -- and, well, I am not ashamed to say that I CRIED, it was so like waking up inside a favorite book!-- followed by a relaxing few days at the beach with a few of my favorite folks.
JuliAnna, Andrew, Dan, Eric, & Paul

Whew! And now there are poems to be written and a certain survival story to be revised (yet again) and all sorts of other summer adventures!

But first: be sure to visit Catherine Johnson for Roundup!

I'm happy to share with you a poem from UBIQUITOUS by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Beckie Prange.

According to the back cover, "ubiquitous" means "Something that is (or seems to be everywhere at the same time." It's big title for a big concept: species that have been present on our Earth for a very long time. There are ants and grass and humans. And my favorite: mollusks!

The Mollusk That Made You
by Joyce Sidman

Shell of the sunrise,
sunrise shell,
yours is the pink lip
of a pearled world.

Who swirled your whorls and ridges?
Was it the shy gray wizard
shuttered inside you?
I hear he walks on one foot
and wears a magic mantle,
trailing stars.

O Shell,
if only I could shrink!
I'd climb your bristled back,
slide down the spiral
         of your heart.
I'd knock on your tiny door
         and ask to meet
         the mollusk
         that made you.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Steady Hands: Poems about Work by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday from the land of a pretty famous mouse and more recently, Harry Potter! Yep, I am out adventuring. :) Be sure to visit Catherine Johnson for Roundup.

It was my great fortune recently to pick up at my library bookstore STEADY HANDS: Poems About Work by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illus. by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy.

The book covers a boat-load of jobs, including a few I've held myself like babysitter and retail clerk and writer... I guess I need to write my own poems for social worker and Krystal's burger flipper. :)

Here are a few of my favorites:

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Snowy flour dusts the early
lavender light
in the backroom of the bakery.
With each
the baker's hands disappear
and reappear
into the folds
of dough.

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

The tow truck driver
fishes in the city:
a taxi
a sportscar
and a minivan--
three keepers
reeled in
before breakfast.

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

each day
a ballet
of hands.

by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

The janitor
what's hidden behind
locked doors
lurking in dark corners
and tucked into closets.
He senses
all the secret wishes
a building whispers
in the night.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

#bookaday Week Two

Okay, so apparently I am not my father, who reads at least a book a day. ALL YEAR  LONG. And I'm not talking picture books here -- he reads NOVELS. Big fat thrillers and such.

And sure, I could bump my #bookaday numbers with picture books. I do love picture books, after all! But I've been craving long stories lately, so reading novels.

This week I've been on a YA kick, and I've got three to tell you about. That's right THREE. Sorry to disappoint, Papa! :)

THE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr. Wow. Love this one. Complicated characters, an introduction to the culture of young xoncert piano prodigies, New York City, real emotions. You don't have to be a music person to relate to the pressures put on us by others and by ourselves to be perfect and not quit and do what is expected. This is my first Sara Zarr book, and I will definitely read more. Lots for a writer to learn here, and lots for a reader to love!

THE CHAPEL WARS by Lindsey Leavitt. Well, this will not come as a surprise, but LL has done it again! Sweet, funny, with something deeper hiding beneath. I loved Holly's devotion to the Rose of Sharon wedding chapel, which she inherited from her beloved grandfather. I enjoyed watching her navigate her relationship with rival Dax, and l especially appreciated her approachability dating strategy. :) Also, I loved the NOT-What Happens at Vegas Stays at Vegas picture of a city Lindsey obviously loves. Next time I go, I am totally visiting the Neon Boneyard. Read the book -- you'll see!

MEMOIRS OF A TEENAGE AMNESIAC by Gabriel Zevin. This book surprised me. The premise is kind of convenient and makes me think of an old Irene Dunne movie (not a specific movie, just the general1940s film feeling). But Naomi is a great, complicated character. She's a bit of an unreliable narrator, which enhances the story for me. She reads REAL, with all the emotional ups-n-downs adolescent brings. Can't wait to share this one with my nearly 17 year old niece. :)