Friday, October 21, 2016

MOO by Sharon Creech

Hello, and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect for Roundup.

I've just finished MOO by Sharon Creech. I thought of my mother the entire time I was reading it -- because my mom was once a big-time prize-winning 4-H girl who, in addition to competing in the areas of sewing and public speaking, showed dairy and beef cows. Her favorite was a Jersey cow named Penny, who won her a GRAND CHAMPION prize. Here's a picture:

Penny & Mama (before she was a mama!)

And here's an excerpt from the book:


Animals need primping for the fair:
     pedicures (hoof-i-cures?)

I am not kidding!

Zep declared Beauty Day for Zora and
     We lathered
     we scrubbed
     we rinsed
     we dried them with a blow-dryer.

I am not kidding!

     We clipped
     we combed
     we brushed.
     We cleaned and polished hooves.
You'll have to do it all again at the fair,
Zep said.
This is just round one: preparation.

It made us laugh.
     Beauty Day for the heifers!
They looked SO good when we were done!

And then Zora tromped through
a mud puddle
and lay down
and said

- Sharon Creech
This poem also reminds me of all the ways  my sister and I would primp our ponies. We painted their hooves and dyed their manes and tails... we also braided and brushed and occasionally broke out the hair dryer. Fun!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Poem of Delight

As some readers may remember, my 2016 One Little Word is DELIGHT. So, imagine my delight when I stumbled across this poem in a little book called Gratitude Prayers, selected by June Cotner:

A Poem of Delight
by Dan Vera

What are the chemical properties of delight?

What physical law rules delight?

In which commandment did the Hebrew God command delight?

Does delight ever go on sale?

Does delight ever go on vacation?

What is the temperature of delight?

Who came first: the delighted chicken or the delighted egg?

What are the elemental principles of delight?

If I dropped delight from the Empire State Building at exactly the same time you dropped delight from the second story window of your apartment, which delight would land first?

If day follows night, does this mean delight follows delight?

With a billion sparkling beings illuminating the sky, is midnight the time of shimmering delight?

And if I feel delight at the twinkling of stars that long burned out in the blue ovens of night, what is the half-life of delight?

An east-bound train from Omaha to Denver is traveling at 110 miles an hour and a west-bound train from Denver to Omaha is traveling at 95 miles an hour. They both leave their respective stations at the same time and the distance between Denver and Omaha is 537 miles. How much time will it take the train conductors to feel delight at their meeting?

Is desperation jealous of delight?

Do the bells at the top of the hill ring with anything but delight?

I was walking through the aisles of the grocery store when I stumbled upon a pyramid display of delight. I placed one in my basket and proceeded to the checkout line. But when the cashier tried to scan it, he couldn't find the universal price code for delight.

                                  "Price check on Aisle 3!"

Love is just the space between our danger and delight.

Isn't that delightful? And isn't that last line wonderful? Suddenly I am speaking in questions. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Maggie the Magical Disappearing Cat

Last week our indoor-only cat Maggie disappeared.

Paul searched everywhere -- high, low, outside, inside.

What made it so strange is that Maggie is not one of these dash-out-the-door cats. Even when a door is open, she wants only to sit there and WATCH. She has some very reliable habits. When she does hide, it's usually under our bed.

Not this time.

Paul posted signs in the neighborhood, just in case.

No calls. No Maggie. Paul was heartbroken.

And then, three days later... Maggie! She appeared in our basement. Our basement, where Paul has an office, and Andrew has a room, and we park our cars. We'd been in and out, and she'd been hiding all that time!

A friend of mine said she might have been sick, or working to clear a hairball. She must have needed to be alone.

We're so happy she's back! Especially Paul -- Maggie is his cat. And as much as we go into relationships with pets knowing that they will end sooner than we'd like them to, we're really glad we've got more time with her. She's special.

So if you have a pet(s), love 'em extra-hard today, for us, and for Maggie!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Scarecrow's Wish" for Poetry Friday Roundup!

Mrs. Frizzle!
Hello, children's poets and poetry lovers! A big Happy Poetry Friday to you! Roundup is HERE!!

I am away from my desk yet again this week -- helping my mom through a surgery. O, October, how you weary me! So I thought I would share with you as I always do pictures from our local elementary school's scarecrow show. (Here's a link to 2015 and 2014.) And I thought I'd also share a scarecrow poem by Valerie Worth. Sounds good, right?

Well. As it turns out, I only imagined that scarecrow poem by Valerie Worth! I've shared a pumpkin one and a skeleton one, but no scarecrow. Because it doesn't exist. So I decided to write one myself.

Scarecrow's Wish

By summer's end
I'm crook-necked,

I've lost an eye,
and an arm,
and my hat dangles
below my brow.

I saved the grain
from so many beaks and teeth,
and still my work
goes on –

I'll guard this field
until winter comes,
and then, Wind,
won't you please
                         oh so gently
                                      lay me down?

- Irene Latham

This poem started out with the title "Scarecrow," and then I changed it to "Scarecrow's Lament," then "Scarecrow's Request," and finally "Scarecrow's Wish."

Titling is a funny thing. I think of it's an important tool for the poet -- great for creating suspense, intrigue, or simply placing a poem so you don't have to use the first lines to do that.

I like the idea of Scarecrow having a wish, and I like the way those words sound and look together (better than "request"!). I really love "lament," but the poem really turned into something different at the end, so it didn't seem to fit anymore. Plain ol' "Scarecrow" is what Valerie Worth would do... and one can certainly argue for the simple title! What decisions we poets are faced with... Poets, how do you approach titles? Do share in comments!

The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly!
For a related image, please see the cartoon called "The Scarecrow's Lament" in The New Yorker. And here is some original music, also with the title "The Scarecrow's Lament."

...and finally....
And now, if you please, leave your link below! Thank you!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Worldbuilding Writing Intensive with Bruce Coville

I love this title!
Last week it was my good fortune to attend a Writing Intensive with Bruce Coville, author of over 100 books -- most (all?) of them fantasy or sci-fi. And since I've just finished the latest draft of this little fantasy middle grade novel that's been haunting me for oh about SIX years now.... well, I was a happy sponge!

Here are some things I learned again or for the first time:

Fantasy as a genre gives readers a way to expand their lives through dreams and imagination and the re-enchantment of the world.

If it has a machine in it, it's probably science fiction (rather than fantasy).

The rule of 3 + 1: 3 little pigs & the big bad wolf. (The 4th thing should be the "topper" or the turn, i.e. "he'd been poked, punched, called names, and hit in the face with a cupcake")

"Window dressing" is the author's chance to paint a magical picture inside the imaginary world.

Bruce took us step by step through
this book's opening... wonderful!
Use humor! Quirks and funny speech patterns are good, esp. for sidekicks.

Make maps. (this is great for ANY genre!)

What lifts the craft to art is the sense of mystery.

Embrace the unfinished chord. (leave the reader with something to think about.)

Bruce left ME with lots to think about! Plus he had some nice things to say about my wip, which, as all writers know, is why we go to conferences: to be encouraged, to re-light our fires, to learn.

Thanks, Bruce! Happy to know you!!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Talking Poetry for Children at Georgia COMO

This is the art that happened to be hanging outside
my presentation room at The Classic Center
in Athens, GA. Pretty fitting, right?
Last week I was privileged to present programs at Georgia COMO conference on my nature poetry books DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA as well as on food library programming related to FRESH DELICIOUS.

As I told the librarians, one of my goals for 2016 was to reach out to Georgia teachers and librarians, as I was born in Covington, Georgia and have always enjoyed thinking of myself as a Georgia "peach." And what I discovered (not a surprise) was that Georgia librarians are just as peachy as they can be! Thanks so much to those who attended for your enthusiasm for poetry and field notebooks in the first session, and for veggie-art in the second session! Here are some pictures taken by Paul who was my helper for the day:

Painting with asparagus... does it get any better?!

Veggie art! (I esp. love that flowered vine on the right.)

Watermelon make-n-take craft!

Fun with jewelers' loupes!

A couple of things I learned:

One way to handle potential food allergies when doing food programming is to post outside the door a list of all the foods included in the program so that parents can decide whether to bring their kids in or not.

Also, one of my programming suggestions is built around the book Mama Panya's Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns. I suggest having a Pancake party and including all sorts of other "pancakes" to bring a multicultural slant, like French crepes and Mexican tortillas and Indian flatbread. One of the librarians in attendance said she has used the book Will It Waffle? to host a Waffle (tasting) Party. FUN!!

Great job, librarians! I look forward to creating more art and poetry with you in the future!

Also: if you're ever in Athens, GA for breakfast or lunch, check out the restaurant Mama's Boy. So good!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Helo Mudda, Hello Fadduh... about Poetry Camp!

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday, children's poets! Be sure to visit lovely Violet (whom I got to meet at Poetry Camp. Yay!!!) at Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

This is my third and final post about my trip to the Seattle area. Here are links to posts chronicling my bookish adventures in Seattle and Mercer Island.

But first: hello to new friends I met during my presentations this week at Georgia COMO! Wow, Georgia is full of enthusiastic librarians. (More on this next week.) Yay!

And hello all my SCBWI Southern Breeze friends -- excited to be with you today
and tomorrow for our annual WIK (Writing and Illustrating for Kids) conference. I'll be launching my two 2016 books tomorrow morning, one of which, WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA was just named winner of the Silver Moonbeam Children's Book Award for Poetry! Go, penguins, go!!

Yes, I'm tired. And no, my schedule isn't always like this. October and April and March tend to be my busiest months for travel.

And now, the reason for last week's trip to Seattle, and for this post: Poetry Camp!

Poetry Camp was a partnership between the good folks Sylvia Tag and Nancy Johnson at WWU and Pomelo Books, aka Janet Wong & Sylvia Vardell! SO much planning went into this event. SO MUCH. And it showed. The whole thing was just kind of magical. Yes, it was like drinking from a firehose (perfect metaphor, Doraine!), but it was also such a rich and nourishing time. I loved meeting so many Poetry Friday poets... and hearing poets read their own work! Joy joy joy!

Howdy Campers! (l-r) Doraine Bennett, April Halprin Wayland,
Jeannine Atkins, Robyn Hood Black, Irene Latham

I learned stuff, too, like some new ways to approach writing workshops with middle schoolers (presented by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger). And what great discussions: emotion vs. intellect in poems? Lots to talk about, and how wonderful to make new friends.

Shout-out to Robyn Hood Black whose poetry makerspace workshop was divine! Here is my creation:


the boy 
who called 
deep water
brought up
broken colors

- Irene Latham

me & Liz
And to Liz Steinglass who was the best session partner never. (Want a copy of our handout on Metaphor & Simile? Email me: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com.) And to Carol-Ann Hoyte and Cynthia Grady and Michelle Schaub, who has a farmers' market poetry book coming next year! And to Nancy Bo Flood and Carmen T Bernier-Grand and to everyone everyone... yes, it was THAT kind of camp. :)

There came a point on Saturday when I had reached my limit -- I'm an introvert, and I wasn't feeling well, and I had been traveling all week... and thank God for Ramona who said, yes, I can take you back to Seattle. Yes, I will get you to your already-payed-for airport hotel. Yes, we can stop at the drugstore. And hey, have you ever tried Starbucks' SHORT (who knew then even had a "SHORT?") caramel apple cider? Well, I have now! Thank you again and again, Ramona! Mwah!

Sylvia Vardell posted lots of great photos on her Facebook page.

And now, for a poem from the newly released YOU JUST WAIT: A Poetry Friday Power Book, brought to you by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. This book is a writers' notebook and a story and a little bit of everything! One of the poems I love appears midway through the book.

Black Ice
by Joseph Bruchac

The whirl of winter wind
slicked the road surface
black and shiny as an otter's back.

The turn of the season's wheel
caught tire treads and heart
at the same time-stopped moment.

I spun, less like a top
than a whirligig beetle,
caromed into the kiss
of guardrail against bumper
rebounded and stopped
just at the edge.

Then the only breath
left held in my chest
was released at last
to spread its wings,
a bird of thanks.

Yes! "A bird of thanks." Sending a whole flock out to the Poetry Friday community today!! I'm so thrilled to know all of you. See you at the next Poetry Camp! xo

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

School Visit: Islander Middle School (Mercer Island, WA)

Ramona with fall flowers!
Life as a children's poet can take one to unexpected places... like Seattle, for instance! Please see my previous post about my first day's adventures. Today's post will be devoted to my time with book-loving, oh-so-generous Ramona who lives on Mercer Island. Read Ramona's post about it at her blog Pleasures from the Page.

First of all, Mercer Island actually IS an island. You cross a bridge over Lake Washington to get there. And it just feels different than Seattle. Small, quaint. Like everyone knows everyone. And one thing I learned: everyone really does know Ramona. Because She. Is. Awesome.

Our first visitors at the Meet-n-Greet.
Thank you for coming!
The first place Ramona took me was to Island Books. This little indie bookstore has that warm, homey feel, and the children's department was awash in titles on my TBR list. We picked up copies of FRESH DELICIOUS and DON'T FEED THE BOY to take to a little meet-n-greet Ramona set up. And I do mean Ramona set it up: home-baked goods, check! Bottled water, check! Flowers from Pike Place Market, check!

...a table runner and everything!

We set up at Islander Middle School library, and I was delighted as a few folks meandered in to talk books and poetry and kids and grandkids. What fun. And Ramona's toffee bars? Delish.

Mercer Island sunset. Aaahhh....
That evening Ramona and I chased a sunset by popping in at a few of Mercer Island's "pocket" parks. (Ramona does this all the time.) We shared a lovely meal and pictures, so many pictures! I felt right at home.

The next morning we headed to Islander Middle School for two assemblies with 6th graders and a visit with Ramona's book club.

Islander Middle School is BRAND NEW. In fact, I got to be the guinea pig for the A/V equipment in the gym! Thanks to a great tech crew (hi, Keith!), everything went smoothly. Students and teachers were an attentive audience, and asked great questions about my adventures in writing. Here is a link to some of the student responses about the visit (on Padlet) here and here.

But the best part was talking with about 20 students who make up the book club Ramona runs (did I mention Ramona is RETIRED? Yep. She's one of those passionate educators who cannot stop!). Many of them had read my books, so they were able to ask more in-depth questions. We discussed things about being a writer, like, what to do when you want to give up; how to keep going; how to FINISH a story. These kids are thoughtful readers and eager learners -- my favorite kind of people to be around.

Many thanks to Ramona especially, and all the amazing teachers and staff (Patty, especially), and co-principals MaryJo Budzius & Aaron Miller. I loved meeting so many enthusiastic educators. What a great place to learn!

I hated to say goodbye to Ramona. I wanted to pack her in my suitcase and take her home with me. (I do live closer to new grandson Teddy, after all!) I was thrilled when our paths crossed again at Poetry Camp... where she kind of saved my life. And I will save THAT story for my next post!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Seattle is for Poetry & Art & Books & FRIENDS

How to tell you about my week last week? Well, since this NEW week is already up and running with me off to Georgia COMO mid-week and our annual SCBWI Southern Breeze conference this weekend -- where I will be attending an Intensive with Bruce Coville.... I've decided to do some short posts about each part of my trip.

First up, Seattle with Sarah, who, among so many other things, keeps a blog called Shine Memoirs!
Sarah with pink-booted big-girl Georgia!

I met Sarah online when she contacted me with a request for a broadside of my poem "Black Shawl Remembers Crazy Horse." She saw it hanging at the Crazy Horse Memorial, and she wanted one for herself!

1. She saw my poem!
2. She like my poem!
3. She actually contacted me to tell me! (I totally want to be more like Sarah!)

Anyhow, years later... I come to Seattle, and Sarah is the lovely poet/mom/Antarctic explorer who picks me up!

Sarah and I shared a lunch under sunny (!) Seattle skies, then she shared her art-n-poetry filled home with me. I got to meet her gorgeous family! Eat home-grilled salmon with her! Talk poetry with her!

Sarah collects broadsides!

sweet Georgia

lego-loving Xavier (who reminded me SO MUCH
of my boys when they were small...)

picture book display wall! (Christian,
come to Alabama and build one for me! Please?)

And, we went to a Elliott Bay Books for a nonfiction book proposal class. Sarah was all like, we can skip it, but little did she know I am working on a memoir and I NEED that class! (I'm taking it online for the next five weeks!) Talk about serendipity.

After a lovely night's sleep, Sarah showed me the Olympic Sculpture Park where, it turns out, she first met her husband. Sweet! And then we went to Pike Place Market, which I had only seen on tv, so that was pretty awesome.

So. Much. Seafood.

Those berries!

Rocky Pacific shores...
so sad the rock I brought home with the volcano-shaped barnacle
no longer has the volcano-shaped barnacle. :(

I spy the Space Needle....

Sculptures are great for hide-n-seek.

The Eagle.

And then... we had lunch with Ramona, who whisked me away to Mercer Island!

Read about that part of my week... next post! Thank you, Sarah, whom I am so honored to know and call my friend. xo

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Inspiration at the Birmingham Zoo

I am excited to be visiting Seattle and Mercer Island and Bellingham this week, but I wanted to share with you a fun bit from last week: I got the chance to go with a friend to pop in on another friend who is a keeper at the Birmingham Zoo. She does a lot of work in the Children's Zoo area, training raptors and goats and pigs. Yes, she's a multitalented gal! And she's living her dream of being a zookeeper. Makes me happy!

Here are some pics:
me & Amy & an irritated owl :)

Pat with a giant leaf!

hibiscus (?)
Pat goofing off at the pretend outhouse
in the Children's Zoo

And here is the bear exhibit where I read this poster and got an idea for a book (love when that happens!). I'm not going to tell you MY idea... but maybe it will give YOU an idea, too!

Not pictured: we got to go behind the scenes to watch the river otters being fed! They are active, smart, enthusiastic creatures... when I asked their keeper Elizabeth what was the most rewarding part of her work with them, she said it was their recognition of her, their connection with her. They know who feeds them. :)

Monday, September 26, 2016

BOOKED by Kwame Alexander

Last April at TLA, it was my good fortune to meet and serve on a poetry panel that included Kwame Alexander. Here's the group shot:

I've since seen Kwame (somewhere -- where was it?) wearing a t-shirt that said "I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie," which I thought was super fun but didn't know it had significance related to his new book BOOKED. Well, the t-shirt-- along with other equally clever book-love t-shirts -- appears in the book thanks to one dynamic librarian Mr. Mac who pretty much changes main character Nick's life. (I have met a real-life Mr. Mac in Florence, Alabama!)

Confession: I was about 3/4 of the way through the book before I realized the different meanings of the book's title. Sometimes I'm slow like that! But then Nick took a while to turn into a bonafide book-nerd, so I guess it's never too late, right?

Anyhow, I'd like to share with you a poem from the book. It's a response to an amazing poem by Langston Hughes called "Harlem" that begins with this line: "What happens to a dream deferred?"

Fun fact: "Harlem" also inspired one of my forthcoming picture books: POP BAM BOOM - Exploding Poems. So I especially loved seeing this poem. Enjoy! And if you want to read a story about a boy who learns to love books (among other things), read BOOKED!

What happens to a dream destroyed?

Does it sink
like a wrecked ship in the sea?

Or wade in the water
like a boy overboard?

Maybe it just floats
around and around. . .

or does it drown?

- Kwame Alexander (BOOKED)

Friday, September 23, 2016

TALKING IN THE DARK and other Poetry Memoirs

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely poet-teacher Catherine at Reading to the Core for Roundup.

First a couple of newsy items: FRESH DELICIOUS will be representing Alabama this weekend at the National Book Festival. Yippee! I'm excited to see Laura Shovan's THE LAST FIFTH GRADE representing Maryland. Yay yay yay!

And second, thanks to friends in poetic places, I will be speaking to students in the Seattle area (thank you, Sarah and Ramona!) before meeting so many great folks in Bellingham for POETRY CAMP. So excited!!! This probably means I won't be posting next week, but who knows?! I may get a spare moment, in which case I will of course say hello.

So, poetry memoirs. There's HOW I DISCOVERED POETRY by Marily Nelson and BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson and ENCHANTED AIR by Magarita Engle. There's YOU REMIND ME OF YOU by Eireanne Corrigan, which I haven't read yet. And others... readers: any poetry memoir titles to recommend?

Meanwhile, have you read TALKING IN THE DARK by Billy Merrell? So, so good! Indeed, each poem is a stand-alone poem, which I appreciate. Here's an example:


I know neither how to open nor to close. - Peter Sirr

How does it happen? That flicker in the dark
like a candle lit and then blown out.
The smoke after, the smell of it. I need you

to hear this. Do you ever stop, halfway?
Or having crossed the street do you ever cross back
to look more closely at something in the road?

Do you walk on? Washing dishes,
do you catch yourself wandering
toward the light on the glass?

I don't know, finally, how to love.
And yet I do. Daily and wholly,
and not only people. We live:

stop at the bank, have a cup of coffee,
forget to write, remember to lock the door.
How often do we live,

having that steady nostalgia even as we live it,
feeling memory create itself as we stand there,
wandering? Wondering? Both, I think, together.

Do you ever wonder if these moments
are what life really is? These lit moments
you rise into will be what is cut together

to finally be your life. We open into it,
we catch ourselves, and we stop. Who saw me
staring into the candle like that?

What must they imagine I'm thinking?
Let us catch ourselves opening
and then catch ourselves stopping

and not. Let us open and open,
without knowing how.

- Billy Merrell

I'm actually working on a memoir. NOT poetry. So I am reading a bunch of memoirs right now. One I've loved recently is THE SOUND OF A WILD SNAIL EATING. Please shoot any recommendations my way! Thank you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THIS poem


To be given all this --
My one incredible life
Day after day of secret blessings
To be held from the beginning
In such loving, holy hands.
How can I not be lucky?
How can I not trust love?

-Sheila O'Connor