Friday, July 22, 2016

North Dakota is Everywhere

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Let's see if I can get the Roundup location right this week.... let's all go meet Chelanne at Books4Learning!

Here at Live Your Poem it's been a catch-up kind of week. I've been cleaning out drawers and closets, doing some crafting (more on this soon!), reading, and remembering.

On my last trip to North Dakota, I visited the Heritage Center in Bismarck where I learned, among other things, that there are many types of barbed wire.

I also witnessed for the first time, cottonwood fluff.

And, in the gift shop, I found a book of poems titled NORTH DAKOTA IS EVERYWHERE: An Anthology of Contemporary North Dakota Poets, edited by  Heidi Czerwiec.

I started reading it on the airplane, and over the past weeks a few poems have emerged as favorites, and I'd like to share them with you here today. I mean, is there any better way to learn about a place than from its poets? Reminds me of an NPR piece years and years about about any mission to meet alien life should include on the ship a POET... if anyone knows anything about that piece, I would love to hear about it! (It was pre-internet days... wouldn't even know how to go about finding it.)

A Moment of Clarity
by Dale Jacobson

The leaves were green flame.

The birch tree was a white journey
from dark water to clear sky,
roots to radiance.

The crow was a long echo that took flight.

North Dakota Sestina
(ending with a line from Psalm 19)
by Rhoda Janzen

Beyond the matchbook parsonage
in fields reduced to stubble,
the rows untangled, as if a comb
had pulled them taut. The sigh
of the wind, sad at harvest, came rolling
like an old-fashioned wagon wheel.

The Leibelts' combine wheeled
around the tiny parsonage,
the great machinery rolling
toward the stiff August stubble.
Hulling loganberries, the child sighed
as she watched the combine comb

the wheat. Mornings, Mother's comb
straightened, thus: the braided wheel
of hair loosened like a sigh.
Racing from the tidy parsonage
to the fields of wild stubble,
the girl, hot, began rolling

her long sleeves. She tripped, rolling
down the incline into a catacomb
of indifferent yellow stubble,
sharp as the spokes of a wheel.
Her mother in the parsonage
came running. and the child sighed,

as if in all the Dakotas one full sigh
could stop the stupid tears rolling
or the thought of the stiff parsonage
and the terrible pull of the comb.
The mother roller her like a wheel,
to see the scratches from the stubble,

but the girl saw on the stubble
collapsing in the filed. She heard the sigh
of the combine finishing its summer, the wheel
of winter like a thunderous silo rolling.
In her hair she spread her hand like a comb
and pinched her eyes shut to the parsonage.

Hair scythed short as stubble, she'd cartwheel
the parsonage and land in the field rolling,
a sigh sweeter than honey or the honeycomb.

The Memory of Water
by Mark Vinz

Here where the Sheyenne joins the Red --
upstream, the Bois de Sioux, and down
the Buffalo -- imagination finds its way
in swirls of white stirred by the prairie winds.

These are the places towns were built,
water flowing underneath snow-covered ice
laced with tracks of skis and snowmobiles
and creatures rarely glimpsed by passersby.

Today I'm home from a desert visit, where
two weeks of rain had finally broken --
arroyos carried everything away
except for the pools on asphalt roads.

How inevitably it all flows off and disappears --
water and what it has been named for --
here, in this glacial lakebed where I live,
still dreaming of the great herds passing.

Also in the gift shop I spied on the top shelf a sculpture of Sacagawea that matches the one my father left for me. "That's yours," he said, the last time I visited him. "When the time comes, that's yours."

Papa said Sacagawea reminded him of me. Now she keeps me company in my studio. And oh, what adventures we are having! Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Westerns & Nature & Life

I've just finished THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER by Zane Grey (1921). Like most westerns, the landscape becomes a character. And like many characters in westerns, a love of the land/outdoors/wide open spaces/freedom is a key element in terms of motivation and personality. 

Life may be hard sometimes, but o the blessings of Nature!

Photo taken at Smith Rock in Oregon.

"But here, after the first few moments of exquisite riot of his senses, where fragrance of grass and blossom filled the air, and blaze of gold canopied the purple, he began to think how beautiful the earth was, how Nature hid her rarest gifts for those who loved her most, how good it was to live, if only for these blessings." -  Zane Grey
The book is also a love story. And, I didn't consciously realize it until I finished the book, but it's also, at its heart, about the love between a father a daughter.

Of all the Zane Grey books I could have picked, how did THAT one wind up in my hands? Perfect, I tell you. Perfect.

Life may be hard sometimes, but o the blessings of BOOKS!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Things I'm Learning from Papa's Book Inventory

Papa in bookstore, consulting
book directory before making
a purchase
My father was a collector. Stamps, magnets, photos, books.... Sometimes his collections morphed into dangerous territory -- if you'd seen his refrigerator and the number of cans stuffed in his kitchen cabinets you'd know what I mean. There's a thin line, I think, between the "collector" and "hoarder."

Anyhow, of all his collections, his books were by far, his most prized. His dream was to retire and build a library in the backyard of his Florida childhood home. He spoke of afternoons spent sitting in a rocking (or was it "easy?") chair, surrounded by his immense collection of books.

When I think of him now, of the afterlife, I know that's what it looks like for Papa. He's somewhere reading in a room surrounded by books.

Anyone who collects anything knows that some organization is required. For his books, my father kept a "Book Inventory." Basically it's a big binder with computer pages listing the titles he owned, when he read them, and what box they were then stored in. (The last printing/update was 02/25/2016.)

Yes, we have HUNDREDS of boxes of books to go through! The good news is that the Inventory makes all that so much easier. Each of us children is going through the Inventory and making a list of the books we'd like to keep. (I chose 70 titles.) Then we'll go find the boxes (some marked with numbers, some letters, some a combination: for instance, books he collected in Bismarck landed in boxes marked "BIS" plus whatever number).

Just going through the Inventory taught me a lot of things -- about my father, and about life. (See, Papa? You're still teaching me!)

1. The most books in Papa's collection were authored by Louis L'Amour. (He loved westerns! In his honor, and because we recently stayed in the "Zane Grey" room at Historic Prospect Hotel near Crater Lake National Park, I am currently reading THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER by Zane Grey.)

2. GOD is an author. (This is how Papa organized different versions of the Bible in a inventory organized alphabetically by the author's last name.)

3. All my mss, whether they wound up published or not, counted as books and were listed in his collection alongside the published ones. I'm so grateful and honored.

4. There were no "X" authors in the collection. (Want to stand out? Choose a pen name with an "x" last name!)

5. When I kept seeing "BOT" after a book title, I worried that I would never know what it meant. Then it came to me: "Book On Tape." (My father loved listening to books as much as reading them.)

6. The best represented poet in Papa's collection is Kahlil Gibran, who is the poet Papa introduced to me when I was a teen, and whose work Papa read aloud at my wedding.

7. A "want" list is every bit as important as the "I've got" list. I am filled with tenderness when I see the pages of titles Papa hadn't yet acquired. Most of them were books he'd listened to on tape, loved, and then wanted to own a print copy. (I do this, too! Listen to a book, love it, NEED to own it.) It reminds me that the fun of being a collector is often in the hunt, in the building of the collection -- not just in the "having" it.

The biggest thing I am learning is that death does not mark the end of a relationship -- we still have relationships that change and grow with people who are dead. Papa is with me in the pages of this Inventory, and in my daily life. Just like a good book, "The End" of life is just another beginning. xo

Friday, July 15, 2016

What It Means To Be a Promising Poet

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Katie at The Logonauts for Roundup.

Big thanks to all who sent me notes in relation to the lovely news that I won the 2016 ILA-Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. !! I was traveling with Paul in Oregon when the announcement came, with spotty internet, and I'm not on Facebook... so my reaction has been a bit delayed. Please forgive me if you reached out and didn't get a response. Thank you for sharing this with me!

Here's the nutshell version, from the website:

The International Literacy Association (ILA) Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award is a US$500 award given every three years to a promising new poet of children's poetry (for children and young adults up to grade 12) who has published no more than two books of children's poetry. 

The book that was under consideration was my debut DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST: And Other Poems from the Water Hole. Isn't that lovely?! I'm so grateful to the one and only LBH for all the ways he supports poetry and poets, and to ILA and specifically to the committee headed up by Laura Apol.

I really can't think of a better way to be a poet than to be "promising." It makes me think of the wonderful Rilke poem I keep at my desk:


If the angel
deigns to come
it will be because
you have convinced
her, not by tears
but by your humble
resolve to be always
beginning; to be
a beginner.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

I want to always write as a beginner, to see the world with fresh eyes, to stumble through syllables and stanzas. That's where the joy is, truly -- not in the polish, but in the polishing. In that way, each poem is a promise, and each moment we struggle with words holds promise -- when we try, when we write, we are all promising poets.

And now, it is my pleasure to share with you the first poem I've received in the Summer Poem Swap. It comes from Tabatha, the Swap Queen herself, and it is so, so special because it is so, so personal. Read on.

Cello Bow
for Irene
by Tabatha Yeatts

In your wildgraced
wood, forests
of wings
leaves. Low
notes of
winter’s slow
stirring sap
and dark
are held
in your
glow. Come
closer, closer.
Bridge the
past and air.
Find your
song in taut,
tender strings.

For those of you who don't know, I am a new-ish cello student. I started playing about a year and a half ago, and it's a challenge, and I love it. Read more about my cello adventure here. So you can see why I love this poem so much. Plus, how 'bout those jammedtogether words like "wildgraced" and "windchurned" and "lovepolished" ?? LOVE. Thank you, Tabatha!

And thanks to all of you for reading. May we all find our songs. xo

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

See Crater Lake

Paul and I are just back from a lovely week exploring central Oregon. We loved the evergreens and waterfalls and mountains and wildflowers. The whole adventure was lovely and restful and inspiring. What a wonderful world!

One of the places we were most excited to visit was Crater Lake National Park. I've wanted to see Crater Lake ever since I wrote a series of poems inspired by photos from the National Parks... here is the photo I selected from Crater Lake:

Can you believe that snow?! We, too, saw snow, though here in July it wasn't that deep, of course. Turns out Crater Lake is a very snowy place and gets on average 44 feet of snow per year.

On the day we visited Crater Lake, it was chilly and overcast. When we arrived at the guard station, the park ranger warned us that we might not see the lake (which is visible 99% of the time). He was brusque --  "No refunds," he said. We didn't care -- we were there, and we were going to have a good time no matter what! 

Well. Here is what we saw:

I know! Talk about disappointed... especially after we watched the 22 minute film (with a number of other disappointed tourists) showing us the glorious bluer-than-blue water. So we thought we'd do a little hike. But guess what? It was COLD. We needed hats and parkas and gloves... that we didn't have. So, reluctantly, sadly, we left the park. Big, big sigh. 

AND THEN.... that night, as we were cozying into our digs at Bend, Paul said, "you know, it's only a two hour drive. We could go back, give it another try."

So we looked at the weather, and the forecast was awful for the next two days, with only a slight chance of things improving the following day, when we were scheduled to attend Sisters Quilt Show -- another major reason we chose to visit central Oregon (after I learned about it during my travels related to Leaving Gee's Bend). We went early for the quilt show, thinking that if the weather improved (we kept an eye on it by checking the handydandy webcam online that shows the rim view), we'd dash back to the park.

And guess what? The weather DID improve! We could see the lake on the webcam! So, goodbye, quilts! (Here's a picture for your viewing pleasure... oh, I took so many pictures! What gorgeous, gorgeous works of art!)

And here's the Crater Lake we found waiting for us (video courtesy of Paul):


Yay! So, so gorgeous. In the movie they show at the park, people report what they felt when they first saw Crater Lake. For me, the words that come to mind are grateful and awestruck. My throat got tight, and I couldn't even talk. What a beautiful moment.

All this to say: See Crater Lake. You won't be sorry. xo

Friday, July 1, 2016

Thrift Store Poetry: Winnie's Book of Poems

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! IT'S JULY!!! Be sure to visit Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup.

Earlier this spring while antique/thrift shopping with my dear friend Pat in Florence, Alabama, I happened up a poetic treasure:

WINNIE'S POEMS - a binder lovingly covered in felt and a hand-cut Pooh-bear!

Here is the dedication page:


A Book

A book, I think, is very like
A little golden door
That takes me into places
Where I've never been before.

It leads me into fairyland
Or countries strange and far,
And best of all the golden door
Always stands ajar.

- Adelaide Love

...and here is the Contents page:

 Collected by Nancy Simmons

Now: Who was Nancy Simmons? How old was she? How did she come to love poetry? Why these poems? I want to know more more more!

And here is a sampling of some of the poems, with lovely illustrations:

Buttercup Cow

Buttercup Cow has milk for me
I drink in my silver cup at tea.
Buttercup cow is speckled and white,
She lives in the meadow from morning till night,

Buttercup Cow hasn't got any bed,
But the moon and the stars look in at her shed.
Buttercup Cow, I'm glad to be me,
Drinking your pretty white milk for my tea.

- Elizabeth Randall

The Hairy Dog

My dog's so furry I've not seen
His face for years and years:
His eyes are buried out of sight,
I only guess his ears.

When people ask me for his breed,
I do not know or care:
He has the beauty of them all
Hidden beneath his hair.

- Herbert Asquith


A cat sat quaintly by the fire
And watched the burning coals
And watched the little flames aspire
Like small decrepit souls.
Queer little fire with coals so fat
And crooked flames that rise,
No queerer than the little cat
With fire in its eyes.

- Peggy Bacon

...this next one might be my favorite (and I'm dedicating it to you, Michelle!):

The Ichthyosaurus

There once was an Ichthyosauraus
Who lived when the earth was all porous,
But he fainted with shame
When he first heard his name,
And departed a long time before us.

AND there's even a bibliography at the end! Yes, each poem is sourced. Isn't that wonderful? (Maybe Nancy was a teacher? Or an older student following instructions? Or a POET ? I like to think so!)

So now me and Nancy are Friends for Ever. Thank you, Nancy, whoever (and wherever) you are!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Things to Do with Teens in L.A.

This past spring we traveled with our younger sons, ages 16 and 19, to L.A. We went mainly to introduce the city to our rapper/producer/engineer/drummer/percussionist ErBeeko, who imagines his musical life may someday take him to that shiny place. And maybe it will.

But.  Perhaps the best thing that came out of the trip was his discovery that L.A. may be shiny, but as a place of residence, it doesn't suit him -- he said it was too big, too crazy, too hard to get around. (We spent A LOT of time in the car.) Maybe the music scene in Nashville will be a better fit? We'll see.

Meanwhile, we we did do some really cool things in L.A. that both sons enjoyed, so I am happy to share them with you here!

I know, this looks like a place for old folks. And yes, the salads cost $30 each. But the ambience is all Hollywood, and who knows who you might see? (We saw George Hamilton of the perpetual tan there on a trip a few years back, but no one this trip.) The guys said they really felt like we were on vacation. Get the sundae for the dessert.

What fun to journey through the history of music! Lots of hands-on, listening experiences, and booths for every phase of music production. Plus, you get to hold an actual Grammy!

me & Paul at Central Perk!
(Years ago we went to a live taping of a FRIENDS episode... fun!)
I really can't believe how much fun this place was. Harry Potter collections and Ellen's soundstage, and the giant warehouses where they store all the props... we took more pictures here than any other place we visited. Plus I think Eric wants to work there now. :)

This pic isn't from the show, but from one of the junk shops
 near Grauman's Chinese Theatre. (We also shopped
at a few thrift stores around town, which was also fun!)

We saw a "Cooking with Gas" show, and it was hysterical! We still talk about one of the bits that came out of that show... definitely a highlight of our trip.

We made this a priority because my father said it was one of his favorite places in the area. He loved the landscape and the history and the man... and I must say, it was especially fun during an election year -- nice balance of fact and beauty... not everyday you get to board Air Force One.

Actually, we did go to Santa Monica, and it's great for people watching... but SO MANY PEOPLE! We all loved our time at El Matador way more.

  • Get in line for the best hotdog you will ever eat at Pink's Hot Dog stand.

All the dogs are named after famous people -- and they're all good! (At least the ones we had were good!) Super fun!

We also spent one of our mornings on a lovely hike with dear friend April Halprin Wayland and her dog Eli. Lucky us!
Eli & the Pacific Ocean

Monday, June 27, 2016

LOVE THAT BOY by Ron Fournier

On a road trip this past spring, Paul and I listened to LOVE THAT BOY: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips and My So Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations by Ron Fournier. 

The book is for all parents, but it particularly centers on the author's reaction to his son Tyler's late (age 12) diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. Which is why Paul and I couldn't wait to read it: we, too, have a son (Andrew) who got a late (age 17) diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. (Andrew gave me his blessing to write this blog post.)

In fact, our stories are eerily similar. Here's an excerpt from the book that we could have written (except for the names and the job, of course!):

"All good things in my life start with Lori, including the story behind this story. Tyler was 12 years old and I was consumed by the 2010 congressional elections when Lori became hooked on a new NBC drama called Parenthood. It featured a large and loving extended family of Bravermans, including a boy named Max who had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of Autism. Max frequently lost his temper, rarely made friends, and fixated on insects. His parents, Adam and Kristina, ricocheted between pride and fear. While they recognized max was gifted in his own ways – he was brilliant and preternaturally genuine – they couldn't escape the fact that he was a social misfit.

From the first episode, Lori recognized Tyler in Max – and cried. While our son's issues weren't as severe as Max's, Lori now realized that Tyler's social awkwardness was more than a phase. He wasn't just quirky. His fixations weren't just cute; they were a clue. His grades had fallen. Classmates teased him. He had no friends except for boys on the block, who didn't play with Tyler as much as they tolerated him. Lori thought, He's not going to outgrow it. She watched three more episodes by herself, not wanting to share her fears with me, because I might confirm them. Instead, she kept telling herself, I don't want him to be autistic."

Yes, after years of anxiety and anger and confusion, during which our son attended six different schools and two separate rounds of homeschooling, after talks with principals and teachers and parents who never once suggested Asperger's, and sleepless nights and teary phone calls and worry, indecision, fear...we discovered through a TV show what was going on with our son.

It makes me cry, still, when I think of it. So much grief for what we could have done had we known -- mostly, I think, we wouldn't have been so hard on ourselves, or on him. We found such relief in a diagnosis -- finally, a word to pin it on! We're not alone! Our son wasn't being willful all those times, he's just wired differently!

I also love this passage in the book:

"Why did it take so long? The most benign explanation is that Asperger's is easy to overlook because Aspies are so well-spoken and intelligent, according to [Temple] Grandin and other experts, especially when it comes to their favorite subjects.

Another excuse: We were enchanted. You've heard the expression “Kids say the darnedest things.” They all do. But kids with Tyler's particular wiring are uniquely bright and expressive, which makes them hypnotizing."

That's Andrew. And we're still enchanted!

In specific terms, I'm not sure Andrew's life would have looked much different if we'd known sooner. We we very proactive in helping him find tools to deal with his life in as positive a way as possible. For a family without a diagnosis, I think we did a lot of good things. But. I still wish I'd known when he was a toddler. I wish I'd had that word "Asperger's." Those years would have been more peaceful.

As for Andrew, the a-ha moment came for him after watching the play THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE NIGHT-TIME on Broadway. He recognized himself in that play and ever since has referred to himself as a happy Aspie. He still struggles with things like social situations and reading body cues, and he is largely a loner. But don't we ALL struggle with something? He's smart and kind and witty and steady and dependable. He's precious, is what he is. As all kids are, whether they meet our expectations or not.

And that's really the point of this book. Here's a final quote for you:

"From their first breath – if not sooner – our dreams for our children are at least in the ball park of perfect, because great grades, championship trophies, lots of friends, and professional success lead to happiness, right?

Actually, no. When a parent's expectations come form the wrong place and are pressed into service of the wrong goals, kids get hurt."

The best thing we can do for our kids -- and anyone -- is love them just exactly the way they are. 

If you're a parent or know a parent -- read this book.

Friday, June 24, 2016

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for all Seasons by Julie Fogliano

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! I am busy with the Buttercups, but I invite you to visit Diane at Random Noodling for Roundup. Also, dear Jan has posted a fun little interview at Bookseedstudio for those who might want to know a little more about me and my poetry books. I'm so grateful, Jan, to know you and call you friend!

Here at Live Your Poem I've been savoring WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illustrations byJulie Morstad. Please find below a sample poem from each season. Note the child-like sense of wonder in these poems as well as the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters and punctuation, What fun for sharing with young readers!

march 24

what the snow left behind
was a red scarf
next to a wooden carrot
one blue mitten
a big snow shovel
a little snow shovel
and mud
and mud
and mud
and more mud
and muddy mud
and mud

july 28

if you ever stopped
to taste a blueberry
you would know
that it's not really about the blue, at all

september 22

i still love you sunshine and swimming and sea
and strawberries, you know that i do
but i'm ready to move on
to something that's new
so now, i am waiting for sweaters

january 30

it is the best kind of day
when it is snowing
and the house
sounds like slippers
and sipping
and there is nowhere to go
but the kitchen
for a cookie

copyright Julie Fogliano


Aren't those wonderful?! Happy Tomato Season, everyone. xo

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Buttercups are Here!

Yes, it is that time of year again... Camp Buttercup: for Brave & Creative Girls!

We are busy adventuring, but I did want to share our traditional welcome-on-the-porch picture:

Anna, BrenLeigh, MadiLynn

and some quilt-ish chalk art:

More to come! Meanwhile, happy adventuring to all of you!

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Default Setting

In spite of everything, there is one song in this world that I will often find myself humming: the Christmas hymn "Joy to the World."

 What's YOUR default setting?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rooted by Thirst by Tina Mozelle Braziel

Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Carol's Corner for Roundup. I've been in that grief time warp this week, missing my father, which makes me especially delighted to have a visitor today -- poet Tina Mozelle Braziel who is here to share with us her brand-new (first!) chapbook ROOTED BY THIRST, delivered to the world by the good folks at Porkbelly Press:

Tina has graciously given me permission to share one of my favorite poems from the collection here, with all of you. Thank you, Tina! AND: I'm giving away a copy. Simply leave a comment by Tuesday, June 21, and Maggie our cat will select a winner!
To Shake Another 
by Tina Mozelle Braziel
When heat visibly wavers over our truck hood,
we feel like puddles, our skin as thin as a frog's.

From the broom sage, the rattle of katydids
ripples through us. I first felt sound in grade school

when a struck tuning fork touched another. Its quaver
shook the other fork into its own humming. Evenings then,

when pines shivered with the chirr of peepers, I wondered
how frogs carry quivering metal inside their tenderness.

Today pressing my cheek to our house frame, I hammer
listening to how all the driven nails resound. Each strike

deepens the note ringing out from here to beyond
the ridge. In it, I feel the reverberation of hammer,

anvil, and stirrup of when he first called my name
setting all of me, what is tender and mettle, abuzz.
And now, here's Tina, responding to some simple prompts:

The Difficult:
Finishing poems is always difficult to me. I find that final revisions are tough to fathom, on the one hand. And on the other, I feel the urge to keep revising, to linger in the space of the poem I’m writing for a while longer. So I swing between those two states, wanting to stay or trying to get out. Putting poems in print doesn’t seem to solve my dilemma since I’ve already revised a poem or two in this collection.
The Delicious:
My first inclination is to talk about how much I enjoy building and living in our house. In our case, building means that my husband and I do the hammering and the heavy lifting. And “living in it as we build it” means we still need to lay floors, plumb the place, and put in cabinets. But you are asking me about poetry instead of life. Yet that is what I savor most about these poems, how entwined they are with how I’m living. I also enjoy how building a house and home feeds my poetry, one creative act nourishing the other.
Emerson claims that “Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.” That rings true to me, especially when I discover words like “rock-bar” and “squarings” that feel so invigorating. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the term “sistering” which means nailing one board against another for additional strength. Such concepts and words recalibrate my perspective of what makes a home, what it means to claim a place as our own. And that feeds my writing.
We plan to burn lines of poetry into walls of our house. It’s a plan inspired by seeing the lines Robinson Jeffers inscribed on the walls of Tor House, the home he built in Carmel, California, back when the coast at Carmel was mostly wild. My husband has already chosen a few from this collection for our walls. I love that some words inspired by the house will become part of it.
The Unexpected:
I come from a working class background which is something I always strive to honor in my poetry. Now it feels even more significant that many of my family members are or were builders of one sort or another. My father is a construction worker / bridge builder as was his father and brothers. My husband’s father built the house he grew up in. My grandfather was a brick mason. He and my grandmother built a house together in Pell City. Like us, they moved in before it was completed and continued to build. But I didn’t learn that Mozelle, my grandmother, helped with the construction of their house until we began to build ours. It was then that my family started making comments that I wasn’t named “Mozelle” for nothing (I am named after her), something they had been prone to say when I quilted or knitted. Learning that bit of family history was unexpected as well as the feeling I am now more closely linked to a family tradition. When I was a kid, my father’s mother would claim that her sons and husband’s “shop talk” were building so many bridges she couldn’t make it through the living room. I am now the tom-boy who has grown up, joining the men in this talk and work. The tangibility of it, how those words become a built thing, prods me to make my poetry to do that as well. That’s unexpected too—“shop talk” challenging poetry to do more and be more real.
Something More:

I’ll soon finish a book-length manuscript about homebuilding, more poems about the house we are building, some about the house my grandmother helped build, poems about what develops or challenges a sense of home and what it means to be from and of a place. Our relationship to the natural world is something I keep turning over, examining from different perspectives. I’m writing non-fiction essays about our land and how we use it. Even though I was once an avid rock-climber and caver, I spend more time outside now than I ever had before. The house requires as well as provides this connection. We live down a dirt road, out of sight from our neighbors. Most of our walls are glass. So even when we are inside, the outside is with us. We heat our house with wood cut from our property or from our neighbors’. Not only do we spend time outside cutting and hauling wood, but we also appreciate the woods in a new ways. For example, my love of dogwood trees has grown since I’ve become familiar with how hot and fast its wood burns. We don’t cut them for firewood until they die of natural causes—our goal is to create a grove of dogwoods by cutting away the other trees and giving the dogwoods the light and room to flourish. I understand why the grove of dogwood that William Bartram found in Alabama were destroyed. Dogwood is great firewood.   
Tina Mozelle Braziel, a graduate of the University of Oregon MFA program in poetry, directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her poetry has or will appear in The Cincinnati Review, Southern Humanities Review, Tampa Review, and other journals. Her chapbook, Rooted by Thirst, was published by Porkbelly Press. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building on Hydrangea Ridge.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Last Book

Thank you to all you wonderful folks who have reached out during this time of grieving. My father died last Wednesday, June 8, in Bismarck, ND. You can read the obituary here. I have about a zillion poems swimming in my head -- mostly I am just trying to take everything slowly and feel it all. It's hard.

One of the things I learned is that the last book Papa was reading was by Never Go Back by Lee Child. (Jack Reacher #18) His bookmark rested on pages 194/195. And he was using a bookmark I'd sent him! (Those who read this blog or who have heard me speak know that my father, for most of his life, has read, on average, a book a day. One of the things I brought home with me was his book catalog/diary. It contains all the titles he's ever read! Talk about a treasure!)

There were so many difficult moments, but there were some wonderful ones, too. Through it all, I tried to keep in mind these words from my father himself, which we had printed on the memorial service program:

“There is so much in life to be savored. But, first, it’s got to be noticed. Won’t you join me today in making a sincere personal commitment to remember to notice the blessings in life and to absolutely devour and savor each one?”
- Ken Dykes

These two poems were also part of the service:

The best part was being with family. Me and two of my siblings shared a hotel room. We convened with other loved ones in town: our stepmother and stepbrother and another brother and his girlfriend and so many fine folks who worked with or were friends with Papa during his 9 years in Bismarck, North Dakota. We shared a lot of meals and a lot of tears. Old wounds began to scab over. We laughed as we remembered the unique and precious person our father was. He gave us the greatest gift you can give another - LOVE. I'm so grateful.
after the ceremony of celebration for Papa's life

For the past several years my father and I have had a daily phone habit. Mostly I called him, and we would share about our day. I learned so much about him this way, and I felt so close to him. My emptiest moments have come when I pick up my phone and realize he's not there anymore to answer.

But he's with me. He's with all of us. This I know. And he was the biggest champion of my writing, bar none. And so I will write through this and about this and then write some more. I don't think I knew this until this moment, but all my words are somehow for him.

I'll do my best, which is all he ever asked of me.

Thank you again for being with me on this journey. It means a lot. xo

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's a Fresh Delicious Art & Poetry Show: Meet Barb Faust & Young Learners in Room 128 A!

Buttons! Love!
Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit dedicated poet and educator Carol at Beyond Literacy Link for Roundup. (And a favor, PF friends: would someone please add this post to the link up? I am in the middle of difficult things and would be so so grateful!) 

And now, I am so so happy to introduce to you wonderful soul and teacher Barbara Faust and the artists of Room 128 A

Watermelon-sized thanks to one Amy Ludwig Vanderwater for introducing us! Among so many other things, Amy is a connector. She generous and kind. And she knows everyone! Mwah! Thank you, Amy.

And now.... take it away, Barb!

"Hi Everyone!  I am very excited to a guest on Irene’s blog thanks to her generous invitation after an introduction by our mutual friend, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater  creator of another wonderful website, The Poem Farm.  Thank you, Irene and thank you Amy for introducing us!

Springtime in Buffalo in a pre-k classroom means creating art for two special occasions—Mother’s Day of course and the Pre-k Art Show.  Every year each Pre-k class in Buffalo creates original artwork that hangs in Buffalo’s City Hall for the month of May.   Each year I look for something not only original but meaningful for the children in my Montessori classroom to make—but what this year? Farmer’s Markets and food are an important part of our school and the Buffalo culture.  When I found Fresh Delicious on the Poem Farm website I purchased it immediately.  The children have been learning to recite “Tomato” and “Strawberry Jamboree” from Irene’s book.  One morning as I watched the 3, 4 and 5 year olds in my class recite “Tomatoes” I knew—Irene’s poetry was the inspiration for our Art Show poster.

WOW! What a smorgasbord of poetry and art!

I brought strawberries in one day, then tomatoes and finally cucumbers.  On the first day with each fruit we passed it around, touched it, smelled it and I took down the words the children said.
an angel! inside a TOMATO!
Then I cut the fruit in half in front of them passed it around cut and continued taking down the words the children said knowing poems would appear.  You can imagine how it feels to hear a kindergartner notice “an angel when you make it in the snow” lying right inside of a cut tomato.  Or a three-year-old see “jingle bell lights like Santa” travel along the edges of a cut strawberry.

Jingle bell lights! Ho Ho Ho!
"After this oral writing the children have a variety of options.  They can choose to draw, paint or photograph the fruit available.  When their work is finished—the words and the visual arts,  I match the poems with the photos and mount them on the poster for City Hall with a thank you to Irene for her inspiration.  In the photos you see some of their work matched with their poems.  You can also see a photo I took  [see below] of two of our kindergartners at work making art—one observer—one photographer who has arranged her shot of the inside of the strawberries that will become part of the poster. What I really love is the joy that making art paints on their faces.

This year we have begun to perform our poems more often while standing in our classroom. The children have memorized everything from Langston Hughes’  “My People” to Irene’s Fresh Delicious work.  In these early spring mornings, our room flooded with light I watch eighteen children drawing circles in the air and throwing an imaginary baseball as they recite Irene’s “Tomatoes” and see the same joy on their faces as I see in the photo of the kindergartners creating their own photographs.


Thank you again, Irene for the opportunity to share their joy and their work and to Amy LV for our introduction."
Oh, to be a child in Barb Faust's classroom! What joy! And to be a poet whose words are being feasted upon in this way... I'm honored and humbled and completely inspired. Thank YOU, Barb, and these amazing young poet-artists! Happy summer to all!!