Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Poem for Johnny Cash's Birthday

I share a birthday with Johnny Cash. And Buffalo Bill. Recently I read FOREVER WORDS: The Unknown Poems by Johnny Cash. I especially loved the handwritten bits included.

Here's the poem/song I'd like to share with you today. Happy birthday, Johnny! And Buffalo Bill! And me! :) We will be celebrating tonight with a La La Land themed Oscar-viewing party! :)

Let's Put it To Music
by Johnny Cash (1960s)

How do you feel about me
Now that you've learned to know me?
Why don't we both admit
That something is happening
And we would feel better if
We'd just tell each other
No need to keep it to ourselves
Let's put it to music
Let's put it to music
Let's sing about it
Laugh about it
Clap our hands
And shout about it
Let the whole world hear it
In a sweet, sweet melody
Let's put it to music, you and me

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poems for Peace / Comfort Food Poems

Peace Postcards!
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Karen Edmisten for Roundup. (While Karen is expecting snow, we've been enjoying super-warm weather! 77 degrees -- and the azaleas and tulip trees are in bloom!) I am posting early because I will be away from my desk tomorrow.

All this month I've been participating in the World Peace Poetry Postcard Project. That means I've been writing a poem a day and also receiving peace-full postcards. What a great project! Many thanks to Carla Shafer for organizing us. It's been fun and inspiring.
While I am not able to share the poems I've received without the senders' permission, I did want to share a few that I've written.... all these happen to be on the theme of comfort food. :)

Peace is a Sweet Potato Pie

creamy sunshine

scented with
a pinch of nutmeg
and allspice

it comes tucked
in a buttery,
flaky crust

to rest warm
and pillowy
on your tongue

it tastes
like gratitude


- Irene Latham
(This poem was original titled "Peace is a Pumpkin Pie," after a photo, and I was thinking Thanksgiving, which explains the end... but then I realized the internal rhyme of "sweet" and "peace," and so I dumped the pumpkin for sweet potato!)

Peace in a Coffee Cup

Warm brown universe
frothed and creamed –
Welcome, it says.
Anything can happen,
anything can be!

- Irene Latham
(I'm actually a tea drinker, and really need to write a "Peace in a Tea Cup" poem... but I was working off a picture prompt.)

Like Peace for Chocolate

If only it came
with a creamy
center –

I'd take a bite
and you'd take a bite

and for an instant
all our struggles
and opinions,

our this-is-me-this-is-you

would turn dark,

and then even that
would disappear

leaving our mouths
and thick with

- Irene Latham
(Someone asked me recently about my chocolate habit, so I'll share it here. I eat chocolate every day. I love those little Dove chocolates with the messages. My Valentine always gives me Godiva chocolates for Valentine's Day. I'll eat any sort, but if I was on a deserted island, just a nice piece of plain dark chocolate would be a dream! I'm also fond lately of Trader Joe's "no sugar added" dark chocolate bars. This doesn't mean "no sugar." It means exactly what it says: no sugar ADDED. Somehow this makes me feel better about eating it!)

What comfort food would you compare peace to?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Monday: MOONLIGHT

For our last movie before next weekend's Oscar's ceremony, we ventured forth to the only theater (and the only showing that day) of MOONLIGHT -- a sure sign of a movie on it's way out of theaters. (Actually I guess they may have just brought it back due to Oscar noms, because you can already stream it on Amazon.)

Wow, did this movie surprise me! Yes, I'd heard the Oscar buzz. It's earned 8 nominations! And my friend Charles told me how much he'd enjoyed it... I guess when I heard the "coming of age black gay boy in Miami" logline, I just thought I knew what the story would be. And it WAS that story... but it was also more. I wasn't expecting to be so powerfully drawn into these characters and the Miami setting, with its beautiful beaches pressed up against its drug holes.

From a purely visual perspective, there are several really stunning (creative!) moments in the film... and several really emotional-for-me ones as well. I ached for Chiron and appreciated his loneliness and vulnerability and anger at every age. It kind of made me ache for all boys -- the posturing, the competitiveness, the near-constant tests of strength and manhood. I think it's tough to be a boy (gay or straight) in this world... having raised 3 of them, I know it's tough. I wouldn't want to be one; it's hard enough being their mother.

The movie is beautifully acted all around, and while it is not my pick for Best Picture, I definitely see why it was nominated. Go see for yourself! And maybe then watch BOYHOOD ? Lots to learn in both those movies about the experience of growing up boy.

And... speaking of boys... and children... and what marvels we all are... you might like my post that includes music and a great Pablo Casals quote over at Birmingham Cello Project!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Tree is Older than You Are

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone (the poetry postcard queen!) at Check it Out for Roundup.

First, some congratulations are in order:
let's send up some balloons for Laura Shovan whose THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY won the Cybils Award for Poetry!! What a wonderful choice! And the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award goes to... SOMOS COM LAS NUBES/WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS by Jorge Argueta, illus. by Alfonso Ruano (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press).  Here's a link to my earlier post on this book. Yay for happy poetry news!

And now, thanks to my sweet friend Sarah at Shine Memoirs, I've been reading THE TREE IS OLDER THAN YOU ARE: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists selected by Naomi Shihab Nye.

What a gorgeous book! I am in love with several of these poems and the artwork, too. One poet in particular, Homero Aridjis, caught my heart, so I have ordered one of his solo poetry books. More on this soon! I also discovered his daughter Chloe Aridjis is a novelist. Oh how the TBR stack grows! Meanwhile, please enjoy these selections.

2 of my baby spoons (recently discovered!)
Noche en la cocina

De su vaina salen los chicharos
rapidas sombras vedes
junto a una chuchara sola

- Homero Aridjis

Night in the Kitchen

Peas come out of their pods
quick green shadows
by a single spoon

(translated by Eliot Weinberger)

Gala and Granny Smith
Sitting on an Orange Plate
(photo by me!)
La manzana

Sabe a luz, a luz fria,
si, la manzana.
Que amanecida fruta
tan de manana!

- Jose Gorostoza

The Apple

Yes, the apple tastes of light,
cold light.
That's it, the apple!
What a lively fruit
so much like morning!

(translated by Joan Darby Norris and Judith Infante)

Fox Sparrow, courtesy of Bird Watcher's Digest
Si el gorrion perdiera sus alas

Si el gorrion perdiera sus alas
la casa su techo
y la mesa sus patas

si el aguila en la altura
y la mujer en la plaza
de pronto se deschicieran

si la ciudad con sus torres
y el volcan con sus hoyos
cayeran en un pozo

si los cominos
si los gatos si los ojos
perdieran para siempre el camino

si la Terra se precipitara
en u espacio negro

si no hubiera mas cuerpos
si no hubiera mas luz

el canot seguiria

- Homero Aridjis

Should the Sparrow Lose Its Wings

Should the sparrow lose its wings
the house its roof
and the table its legs

should the eagle in the skies
and the woman in the market
crumple into bits

should the city with its towers
and the volcano with its craters
fall into a well

should the roads
should the cats should the eyes
lose their way for always

should the Earth launch itself
into a black hole

should there be no more bodies
should there be no more light

the song would still sing

(translated by Martha Black Jordan)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Everyone Matters.

Last year, after I fell in love with Newbery Honor-Award winning THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, I set about to read everything else by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley -- who, incidentally is my Tennessee neighbor! -- which led me to her marvelous book JEFFERSON'S SONS: A Founding Father's Secret Sons.

I love this book. It features the stories of Beverly, Harriet, Maddy, and Eston -- whose father was Thomas Jefferson and mother was Sally Hemings. It's rich, heartfelt historical fiction full of truth and beauty and honesty. And how wise is this Sally?! Love her. And lucky me, at NCTE, I got to meet Kim and tell her in person how much I enjoyed the book. (see pic below)

Here are a few favorite passages from the book.

"A lot of things are true," said Mama, "but that doesn't mean we say them out loud."

"You matter, "mama repeated. "not because of whose son you are. Because of who you are. You're as important as every other human being that ever was or ever will be. Everyone matters. What that girl thinks of you, how she treats you, can't change the fine person that you are."

Mama took Beverly's hands. "Listen. Neither part of you is better not the black part or the white part. They're both what you are. But right now the white people make the laws in this country. They make the rules. It's easier to live like a white person here."

And here's me and Kim. (Good news: Kim says we'll soon get a sequel to THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE! It's coming in October and is titled THE WAR I FINALLY WON.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"The Ostrich in Love" by Arnold Lobel

Each year forValentine's Day, I like to share this favorite love story, which appears in the 1981 Caldecott Award-winning FABLES by Arnold Lobel. Enjoy! (And happy hearts-n-flowers... hug the ones you love! Thanks to my sweetheart, I'll be here savoring Godiva chocolates... mmmmmmmmmm)

The Ostrich in Love

On Sunday the Ostrich saw a young lady walking in the park. He fell in love with her at once. He followed behind her at a distance, putting his feet in the very places where she had stepped.

On Monday the Ostrich gathered violets as a gift to his beloved. He was too shy to give them to her. He left them at her door and ran away, but there was a great joy in his heart.

On Tuesday the Ostrich composed a song for his beloved. He sang it over and over. He thought it was the most beautiful music he had ever heard.

On Wednesday the Ostrich watched his beloved dining in a restaurant. He forgot to order supper for himself. He was too happy to be hungry.

On Thursday the Ostrich wrote a poem to his beloved. It was the first poem he had ever written, but he did not have the courage to read it to her.

On Friday the Ostrich bought a new suit of clothes. He fluffed his feathers, feeling fine and handsome. He hoped that his beloved might notice.

On Saturday the Ostrich dreamed that be was waltzing with his beloved in a great ballroom. He held her tightly as they whirled around and around to the music. He awoke feeling wonderfully alive.

On Sunday the Ostrich returned to the park. When he saw the young lady walking there, his heart fluttered wildly, but be said to himself, "Alas, it seems that I am much too shy for love. Perhaps another time will come. Yet, surely, this has been a week well spent."

Love can be its own reward

Monday, February 13, 2017

Movie Monday: LION

In our attempt to see as many Oscar-nominated films before the ceremony Feb. 25, we braved the crowds (near 70-degree weather brought everyone out and about, it seemed!) to see LION.

It's the story of Saroo, who gets lost from his family in 1980's India. Much of the film documents his bond with his brother, and then his terrible journey, which ends in him being adopted by a loving couple (mum is played by Nicole Kidman) on the island of Tasmania in Australia.... and then we fast-forward to Saroo as an adult (Dev Patel) becoming obsessed with finding his birth family.

It's such an emotional journey, and so vital, to know where one comes from... and you get that in this film. You also get beautiful cinematography and music.

I was especially touched by the actual footage of the real Saroo and his adoptive mother meeting his birthmother. Also, we find out at the very end how the movie gets its title.

Nope, I'm not going to tell you. Go see the movie!

Next up (I hope!): Moonlight

Friday, February 10, 2017

More Myra Cohn Livingston Poems

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Katie at The Logonauts for Roundup. While you're there, scroll back to Katie's amazing post for teaching elementary students about stereotypes. I can't wait to try this with students!

Here at Live Your Poem it's been an up-n-down week. I returned from glorious time with my mother and sister, and then skidded on a icy patch of grief for my father. As I was moving through that, I got the disappointing news that a project I'm attached to needs a MAJOR overhaul... and as I was moving through that, I found out a separate project isn't as dead as I thought it was (yay!)... also, I was invited to write a poem for a publication on an interesting and inspiring topic, so... good and not-so-good. Such is life!

Meanwhile I'm continuing my study of Myra Cohn Livingston. Read my post on her book of writing exercises I AM WRITING A POEM ABOUT... here. This week I am excited to share with you A SONG I SANG TO YOU: A Selection of Poems by Myra Cohn Livingston, Illustrated by Margot Tomes. It was published in 1984 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

What strikes me is how simple these poems are. Very easy on the ears and tongue. Really nice rhythms. And lots of indentation! There is nothing particularly earth-shattering about these poems, no surprising analogies or images. But there is a sweetness to these lines, an innocence... they are like comfort food! I think Myra was very good at writing from that child-place inside her heart.

Here are some of my favorites from the book. Enjoy!

 For a Bird

I found him lying near the tree; I folded up his wings.
     Oh, little bird,
     You never heard
     The song the summer sings.

I wrapped him in a shirt I wore in winter; it was blue.
     Oh, little bird,
     You never heard
     The song I sang to you.


Thank you for the sun,
          the sky,
     for all the things that like to fly,
          the shining rain that turns grass green,
          the earth we know --
          the world unseen--
     for stars and night, and once again
          the every-morning sun. Amen.

Tomato Time

On a summer vine, and low,
The fat tomatoes burst and grow;

A green, a pink, a yellow head
Will soon be warm and shiny red;

And on a morning, hot with sun,
I'll find and pick a ripened one.

Warm juice and seed beneath the skin --
I'll shut my eyes when I bite in.

I Don't Know Why

I don't know why
          the sky is blue
          or why the raindrops
          splatter through

          or why the grass
          is wet with dew. . .      do you?

I don't know why
          the sun is round
          or why a seed grows
          in the ground

          or why the thunder
          makes a sound. . .       do you?

I don't know why
          the clouds are white
          or why the moon
          shines very bright

          or why the air
          turns black at night. . . do you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

An Abundance of Notebooks

My One Little Word for 2017 is "abundance." Among other things, it's got me thinking about cleaning out. What material things do I have an abundance of? What items am I holding onto? Where in my life can I pare down to make room for the type of abundance I am seeking: the abundance of the spirit?

One thing I have an abundance of is notebooks. Most of them have been gifted to me -- and I love them! I love how they remind me of the individuals who gave them to me, and how the empty pages hold so much promise, and how the covers so very often contain bits of wisdom and beauty and inspiration.

What I'd like to do is give them all away. Pass them on. (Well, not ALL of them...) This year I will be looking for opportunities to do just that... maybe these notebooks will go to attendees at one of my sessions at a writing conference. Maybe I will distribute them to some special students. I'm not sure yet, but I will let you know!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Too Many Revisions

One of the best-loved books that survived my childhood and still remains a favorite of mine is TOO MANY KITTENS by Mabel Watts, illustrated by Suzanne. (That's right: "Suzanne," like "Madonna." No last name!)

In the book Carol wants a kitten, so her father puts a "wanted" ad in the paper. The next morning a parade of kittens begin arriving at Carol's door! Too many kittens, her mother tells her she can only have one. So Carol begins giving all the kittens away. Until finally there is just one left: Boots, who looks like he simply wants to stay. And so finally Carol has a kitten all her own.

I thought of this book a few minutes ago when I was reading Bobbi Miller's wonderful post about revision over at Teaching Authors. There is this book I have been working on since 2010. Not only have I done revision after revision, I have drafted version after version! TOO MANY REVISIONS. At least that's the way it feels sometimes.

But I know Boots is waiting for me behind the stove, just like in the book. I'm looking and looking. Someday, if I keep revising, I will find the right story. xo

Friday, February 3, 2017

Poetry and More from SOME WRITER! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Penny at a penny and her jots for Roundup.

I am off adventuring today, but I want to share some poetry and other goodness!

First, THANK YOU to those poets who responded to the Myra Cohn Livingston challenge in last week's post! Looking at you, Linda M., Jan, Brenda, Linda B., and Heidi! Really good off-the-cuff writing, poets! It's a joy to read your words.

Now some links:

"How to Rise" - a poem I wrote for Spiritual Journey Thursday

an interview in which I was asked for 5 words to describe myself... I am still pondering the words I selected!

2 "Musts" for Writing Middle Grade Novels

And now, for a look at SOME WRITER! by Melissa Sweet! This is a fun-to-explore book, and I found much in E.B. White's life that I could relate to. Here are 11 things, in no particular order:

1. E.B. White was well-loved by his parents.

There's a letter from his father written to his son on the occasion of his 12 birthday, and it is full of joy and support and love! I loved reading it, and I feel so fortunate to have similar letters from each of my parents.

2. E.B. White wrote love poems.

Here's one he wrote for his wife, Katharine Sergeant Angell:

Natural History

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
He builds a ladder to the place
From which he started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

The poem was later read at Katharine's funeral... though E.B. White was too distraught to attend. (Letters of E.B. White, 1929)

3. E.B. White knew how to snatch time.

“The best writing,” he said “is often done by persons who are snatching time from something else.”

4. E.B. White believed in keeping it simple.

In an article about the great Depression, Andy wrote, “The hope I see for the world... is to simplify life.”

5. E.B. White embraced revision.

"Do not be afraid to seize whatever you have written and cut it to ribbons; it can always be restored to its original condition in the morning... Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers."

6. E.B. White wrote from a place of love.

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around.”

7. E.B. White loved the words, not the writer.

Melissa Sweet writes that "E.B. White never believed that writers were celebrities. He wrote that when he was a child, an author 'was a mythical being... The book was the thing, not the man behind the book.' He did not seek literary approval and never considered himself a great reader- he preferred reading farm journals and boating magazines."

8. E.B. White trusted children and gave them credit for their intellectual and emotional capacities.

"Children are game for anything. I throw the hard words, and they backhand them over the net."

9. E.B. White had fun (writing for children): 

John Updike, who worked with Andy at The New Yorker (Katharine White was his editor) remembered “how much more fun” Andy seemed to have than the rest of the younger staff. “Not loud or obvious fun, but contained, inturning fun.”

10. E.B. White believed in the goodness of humans:

"Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time, waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man's curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out."

11. E.B. White reminds me a lot of my father.

"Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day." (Letters of E.B. White, 1973)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to Rise

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey FIRST Thursday! Today we are all sharing our thoughts and feelings about Leigh Anne's One Little Word "Rise." Be sure to visit her blog His Turn for a linkup of all the posts!

The word RISE brings to my mind some of my favorite quotes:

fall seven times, get up eight

if you're going through hell... keep going

a winner is a loser who tried one more time

And it takes me back to one of my favorite poems ever: "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. Here's Viola Davis... and then Langston Hughes... giving a beautiful reading!

So rising is really about perseverance, and hanging in there, not giving up.

I know for me, my confidence is built when I have the opportunity to rise. Which means I have to allow myself to fail. Which means taking chances. Which means getting out of my comfort zone. Which means being brave. Which is hard!

How to Rise

A kite needs wind,
smoke needs fire.

A whale dives


before it swims up for air.

A balloon doesn't stop
to ask, what's it all for?

It simply lifts,
find new mountains
to float over.

And each day the sun returns,
reminding us

              to try
                         once more.

- Irene Latham


Monday, January 30, 2017


This past weekend we finally got around to seeing HIDDEN FIGURES, the based-on-a-true-story film about  3 African-American women who made important contributions to the US space program during the 1960s (and beyond).

The movie has been nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Movie, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Will it win? I will be watching February 26 to find out. :)

I love it when literature/art/film showcases previously overlooked people in history. (I've written many poems about many other such overlooked women!) The movie is especially powerful and relevant because it's about women in a male-dominated science/math field -- and African-American women at that!

Yes, newsflash: women are smart, capable, determined, innovative. They have been for a long time. Even when all the TV showed was the (white, male) astronauts, these women were there doing the math, the engineering, the coding.

I'm grateful for this song for the unsung heroes. It's inspiring to think about these women pushing against boundaries, being "first." We wouldn't be where we are today with these women and others like them. I appreciate this opportunity to remember and recognize them.

And okay, the movie goes a little long and had some slow-ish moments... and doesn't get MY vote for Best Movie.. but it's still a good one! I especially loved sharing it with our young adult sons.

Friday, January 27, 2017


Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Beyond Literacy Link for Roundup.

How 'bout those ALA book awards earlier this week?! I was pleased to see a few poetry titles -- and poets! -- recognized, including  FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Little Bee Books)


Nikki Grimes & me at Poetry Camp!
and how lovely to see Nikki Grimes recognized with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award?! Also Naomi Shihab Nye for the May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture Award. Yay yay yay!

I've got a book to share with you, but, first, in case you missed it, here are a couple of poetry posts:

HERE WE GO: A Poetry Friday Power Book by Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong -- for Multicultural Children's Book Day (today!) #ReadYourWorld

UNBOUND: a novel in verse by Ann E. Burg

CATCHING A STORYFISH by Janice N. Harrington

Recently my friend and mentor Lee Bennett Hopkins encouraged me to read everything by Myra Cohn Livingston... so I've been working on that! I started at No Water River, where he and Renee La Tulippe have created the wonderful NCTE video series. And then I found a few books in my library.

The first one I want to share is a writing-prompt book, filled with prompts and Myra's students' responses. It's called I AM WRITING A POEM ABOUT...A Game of Poetry. It just shows you that wonderful work can come of challenges/assignments! And makes me wish again I could have attended one of Myra's classes. The good news is, because of this book, in some small way, we can ALL attend one of her classes. Enjoy!

Prompt: one word: rabbit

Poem About Rabbit
by Alice Schertle

I am writing a poem


A pink-eyed poem
     that watches
               from the

of the page,
     that nibbles
                at the

of my  mind.

A quiet poem

The kind
    with long-eared lines that
     to where the words fall.

A poem
coming close
     enough to touch,

to watch
me write a poem


Prompt: three words: ring, drum, blanket

A Ring Needs
by Ann Whitford Paul

A ring needs a finger,
a blanket, a bed.
A window needs curtains,
and butter needs bread.
A king needs a crown
and so does his queen.
A drum needs a drumstick;
A movie, a screen.
A clock needs two hands.
A door needs a knob.
And how would the corn
grow without any cob?
A cupcake needs frosting.
The shore needs a sea.
These words need a reader.
The reader is me.

Oh, Brother!
by Janet S. Wong

The little squirt,
begging for boiled eggs and toast,
circles me like a wrestler in the ring,
bouncing on my bed,
and when I try to hide my head,
he dives under the blanket,
to drum my stomach
until it surrenders
a growl.
Prompt: six words: hole, friend, candle, ocean, snake, bucket or scarecrow

Celebration by the Sea
by Joan Bransfield Graham

My friend
and I scoop out
a hole in the sand, a
bucket to capture our own small

We build
a castle cake.
Water snakes through its halls.
Mud turrets rise and on top -- one
Aren't those wonderful?! Anyone want to join me in writing a poem on any of these prompts? If so, please do share! Happy writing!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg

UNBOUND: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg, about young could-pass-for-white Grace's journey from her Mama's arms to houseslave to runaway slave making a new home in the Great Dismal Swamp (Virginia and North Carolina).

Some things to note:

The book is written in dialect. The g's are dropped, and all "and"s are shortened to "n."

The poems do not have titles.

Bound/unbound is a metaphor that works on a lot of levels in the book.

It's beautiful and hopeful and full of love, and Grace uses what power she has to make her life (and the lives of her loved ones) better.

Here is a passage I particular enjoyed:

Silent as moonlight
we glide
into the forever water.

guides the canoe
round a narrow bend,
windin us
farther away
from the riverbank,
father away
from Mama's cabin
n the Big House,
from Master Allen
n the Missus,
father away
from Aunt Sara
n Aunt Tempie,
from Anna
n Uncle Moses,
farther away
from everythin
I ever knew.

Farther n farther
into darkness
we drift,
till before long,
we disappear too.

Far off,
a solitary cypress
keeps watch,
its ghostly silhouette
rising from
the dark water.

The only sounds
is the distant,
lonesome squawks
of the night heron,
the tiny swash n ripple
of our canoe,
n the soft,
silver prayers
Mama's sendin
to heaven.

Bove me,
the stars sparkle
low n bright.
I reach in my pocket
n squeeze Aunt Sara's small,
broken button.

I listen to the quiet
n wonder
what new world
is waitin.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Movie Monday: THE FOUNDER

I am very excited about the 2017 Youth Media Awards coming later this morning! I considered attending the event since it is so close (Atlanta), but decided I'd rather watch the live stream in my pajamas. :)

In other exciting news, the 2017 Oscar nominations will be announced  tomorrow (Tuesday) morning! Here are some predictions.

And here is a little bit about THE FOUNDER, which is about Ray Kroc, the man responsible for bringing McDonald's nationwide and around the globe (100 countries!). I really enjoyed the movie, as it shows the good and the not so good about being ambitious. Success comes at a price, and sometimes the story gets changed along the way. Things (like marriages and integrity) are sometimes lost in the pursuit of success, and by God, when you make a deal, get it in writing. 

I was instantly able to apply some of the movie's wisdom to my writing life -- it's not about talent or education; the way to succeed is PERSISTENCE.

I know this to be true, and I kind of ached for Ray Kroc in the movie when he's pitching McDonald's as a franchise, and the bankers and investors are laughing at him, remembering all his previous schemes and great ideas. It can be SO HARD to keep going.

But. All a person needs is one great success! And Kroc is right: it's got to be different, something revolutionary. This is good advice for we artists as well! Don't just do the thing that's already been done. Be bold and innovative. Know what you're selling/creating. (For Kroc, it was "family.") And Don't. Give. Up.

Go see this one -- Michael Keaton does a great job, and it's a fascinating story.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Violet at Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

One of the things I love to do on this blog is showcase Alabama books and authors. Today it is my pleasure to welcome Glenda Slater, author of FOOLING AROUND WITH SHAKESPEARE (Negative Capability Press, 2016). These poems are FUN! They are not just for someone who knows and loves Shakespeare. They make a great introduction to him, especially as they are so easy to understand and amusing. Teachers, these poems would be great to pair with actual Shakespeare in the classroom!

First I'd like to share the Preface that begins the book:

You may be long-time lover of the Bard.
You may be youth who thinks His plays too hard.
The poems you will find within this book
Provide for you a new, irreverent, look.
They focus on the foolishness and fun,
The foibles, failings, faults of fools who run
Capriciously cavorting on His pages.
These fools may be, at times, confused with sages.
I warn those who are with His plays besot:
I'e taken liberties with place and plot.
Your entertainment is the poem's intent, so
Frame thy mind to mirth and merriment!

- Glenda Richmond Slater

Isn't that delightful?! And now I've asked Glenda to respond to a few prompts:

The Unexpected:

GS: I remember thinking, when Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns was published, how remarkable that a woman could publish her first book at the advanced age of 60! And here I am, considerably older, with my first.

Everything about Fooling Around with Shakespeare has been unexpected. When I wrote the first poem, in response to a Pensters [writing group] prompt, I didn’t even turn it in to the contest. That was “A Midsummer Night’s Scream” and I thought the judge would not take seriously a poem that rhymed, had meter, and was a bit of a parody on the play. It would be dismissed as light verse, I suspected.

The next year, the prompt was unintentionally repeated and I took the poem to my small writing group. When we had finished our session and were about to leave, I remembered it, pulled it out, asked them to listen to it and tell me if I should try to do something with it. They found it very amusing. Sue Walker, a member of the group, said, “Glenda, if you will write more of these, I will publish the book.” [note from Irene: Sue Walker is awesome like that.]

Wow, that was a surprise! A publisher! Those are hard to come by! I got to work, not knowing whether I could actually come up with enough poems for a book. I started with the plays I knew best, all of which, of course, had at least one character who behaved quite foolishly. These first poems came easily, which is what I had come to expect with my writing. The plays with which I was not as familiar were more challenging. I often found myself having to (gasp, not used to this) discard my first effort and start all over. With Anthony and Cleopatra, for example, I didn’t find the right approach until after writing three other versions. Surprisingly, it turned out that I liked the challenge, the expansion of imagination, and the growth of my bond with the characters.

Negative Capability Press does not have a stable of illustrators and I knew a lot of artists, but none who had illustrated a book. Sue and several people suggested names to me and I looked at their work and talked to a couple of them, but I felt a more whimsical approach was needed. I mentioned this at a meeting of my P.E.O. chapter and one of the members, Dale Goss Mozley, a gifted artist, said she had never done illustrations, but she would like to try. I told her I had a vague idea of simple, whimsical drawings, and they would need to be black and white. She set forth on this immediately, brought me sketches for two poems, said if they didn’t work for me, she would understand. They were so far beyond the vague notion I had in mind! I was delighted with them. I think her drawings add immeasurably to the effectiveness of the book. And each is her own idea; I only saw them when she finished.

Glenda Slater
The Delicious:

GS: I love rhyme and meter. I love the poems. I loved writing them, I love reading them silently, I love reading them to audiences.

Getting back in touch with Shakespeare has enriched my life. I have always enjoyed the plays, both reading them and seeing them on stage. If done well, all emotions are touched. If done poorly, perhaps hard to sit through, but such fun to critique afterwards. I acted in only one Shakespearean play (Regan, in King Lear), and found my acting ability did not measure up to my oral reading, but still it was a pleasure to be a part of what was an excellent production with a perfect King Lear and a perfect Fool.

I think the book is beautifully designed by Megan Cary. I couldn’t imagine how she would handle the various shapes and various lengths of the poems. I love that it is hardback and that she used Dale’s drawings on the cover.

I have been delighted by the reception. At my readings, the audiences have been receptive, responsive and very much with me, smiling and laughing, having fun. It’s great fun to do the readings—the poems lend themselves to oral performance.

I took great pleasure in writing them. Most often, I begin a piece when the first two lines come to mind. I usually have been mulling over the project and what I think of as the poetic section of my brain has been activated, with me thinking rhymes in my head as I go about daily activities. When those first perfect (at the moment, anyway), lines pop in, I know I’d better get them down immediately; otherwise, they’re gone. It’s best to continue the poem right then if I have time. It took me about two years to write the 20 poems.

The Difficult:

GS: It was hard waiting for the published product. Even though I knew this can take years, I did get frustrated. It took about two years from the time I turned in the manuscript to the August, 2016 launch.

The marketing process is difficult for me. I love doing the readings, but not the peripherals that are necessary.

Anything else? 

GS: It's never too late to get started. I first joined a writer’s group when in my fifties and, at that time, wrote children’s poems. I have a group of “veggie” poems that I took to elementary schools for years: “Goobers & Tubers & Pickles & Peas.” I tried to get that published with no success, but still see it as a good possibility for a poetry book with recipes for children. Just need a recipe person!

I didn’t start writing fiction until I moved to Fairhope and joined the Pensters writing group. I do well with flash fiction and have quite a few stories compiled—many of them have done well in contests. I continue to write them.

I’ve also written a middle grade novel, set in 1949 on the Gulf Coast. The first two chapters were awarded first place in Juvenile Fiction (Alabama Writers’ Conclave contest) by Watt Key three years ago. I’m looking into publishing options for it.

I’ve published a children’s play, The Junk Food King, poems. short stories, and articles on communicating with children. Not an extensive list—marketing is not my strong point.

Thank you, Glenda, and congratulations on the fun book of poems! You are an inspiration.

Glenda Slater was born in Crosby, Mississippi, but spent most of her early life in Alabama. Currently retired, she has a B.A. (English) and M.A. (Speech and Language Pathology) from the U of Alabama, and a Ph.D. (Speech and Language Pathology) from the University of Cincinnati. She currently lives and writes in Spanish Fort, Alabama. She says, "Writing brings me joy!"


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Books, Aging and "White House feet" According to Eleanor Roosevelt

I've just finished reading THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ELEANOR ROOSEVELT. This was the December 2016 pick for Bas Bleu's Life Stories Book a Month club. (Now I can move on to THE SIX: THE LIVES OF THE MITFORD SISTERS by Laura Thompson... but first,
here are some words from Eleanor:

I was a shy, solemn child even at the age of two, and I am sure that even when I danced I never smiled. My earliest recollections are of being dressed up and allowed to come down to dance for a group of gentlemen who applauded and laughed as I pirouetted before them. Finally my father would pick me up and hold me high in the air. He dominated my life as long as he lived, and was the love of my life for many years after he died.

I don't supposed that kind of shyness ever really leaves one and to this day it sweeps over me occasionally when I face a crowd, and I wish the ground would open and swallow me. Habit has a great deal to do with what one actually does on these occasions, and the next years were going to give me a very intensive education along many lines.

Once, I talking to him [FDR] about some spiritualist conversations which had been sent in to me (people were always sending e their conversations with the dead), I expressed a somewhat cynical disbelief in them. He said simply: “I think it is unwise to say you do not believe in anything when you can't prove that it si either true or untrue. There is so much in the world which is always new in the way of discoveries that it is wiser to say that there may be spiritual things which we are simply unable to fathom. Therefore, I am interested and have respect for whatever people, believe, even if I cannot understand their beliefs or share their experiences."

[after FDR's death] I had few definitely plans but there were certain things I did not want to do. I did not want to run an elaborate household again. I did not want to cease trying to be useful in some way. I did not want to feel old- I seldom have. In the years since 1945 I have known the various phases of loneliness that are bound to occur when people no longer have a busy family life. But, without particularly planning it, I have made the necessary adjustments to a different way of living, and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it and almost everything about it.

As time when on, the fact that I kept myself well occupied made my loneliness less acute. I am not sure whether this was due to my own planning or simply to circumstances. But my philosophy has been that if you have work to do and do it to the best of your ability you will not have much time to think about yourself.

Readjustments in one's inner life have to go on forever, I think...

I do not grow weary of travel and I do not tire easily – not so easily as some younger people I know. Sometimes, it is true, my feet hurt. What I call my “White House feet” hurt largely because of a change in the bones of my instep caused by years of standing at receptions in the White House. I generally find pleasure in travel because it give me an opportunity to catch up on my reading. In fact, I do must of my reading for pleasure on airplanes since at home there seldom seems to be time to puck up the many books that interest me. Incidentally, if I have a complaint about the kind of life I lead, it is that I simply cannot find time to read as much as I wish.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reason #627 Why I Love Librarians.

About a week ago I attended a Championship Tailgate event... at my library! It's an annual event hosted by Katie Jane Morris of Hoover Library in which she speed-book-talks her favorite titles from the previous year.

I immediately put on request about twenty titles I hadn't already read, and also shared with Katie Jane some additional titles that made my list. And then yesterday, when I opened one of the books, CATCHING A STORYFISH by Janice N. Harrington (WordSong, 2016), this is what I found:

Note says: I hope you love this one! Katie Jane

Isn't that awesome? And. I love the book! It's about a girl who loves her grandfather and talktalktalks... until she moves to a new place and kids tease her about her (Alabama) accent. It's a book of friendship and family and love and fishing and finding our power through story. And it's all poems. Yay! It reminds me of WORD WITH WINGS by Nikki Grimes and GONE FISHING:A NOVEL IN VERSE by Tamara Will Wissinger.

Here is a poem from the book I am happy to share with you:

by Janice N. Harrington, from CATCHING A STORYFISH

Bait your hook with patience,
if you want to catch a fish.

Bait your hook with be still,
be quiet, be slow.

Bait your hook with mosquito-buzzing,
with dragonfly-darts and frog-plops.

Bait your hook with shadows,
with a crow's awk-awk and with sunlight.

Bait your hook with enough wind
to cool the heat but not too much.

Bait your hook with your grandpa's
steady breath and the way he smiles at you.

But mostly, bait your hook with listening, with waiting,
with low waves bumping against the bank.

Friday, January 13, 2017

#ReadYourWorld with HERE WE GO: A Poetry Friday Power Book by Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday on this fabulous Friday the 13th! (Unlucky? I think NOT.) Be sure to visit Keri at Keri Recommends for Roundup. Also, shout-out to our baby boy Eric, who turns 17 today!

For the past several years, it has been my privilege to be a participating blogger in Multicultural Children’s Book Day, now it its fourth year!

This year the celebration will be all over the blogosphere January 27. You will find my review below of HERE WE GO, a multicultural book provided by two of the most passionate and generous poetry people I know: Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell of Pomelo Books. HERE WE GO is also a Children's Book Council "Hot Off the Press” selection for January 2017. Woohoo! Win your own copy below! But first, some more information about this event!

Multicultural Children's Book Day was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. 

Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site:
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents:
Don't you love all those diverse faces on the cover?! And that's just the beginning... the art continues throughout the interior as well. It's perfect for the book!

Like its predecessor YOU JUST WAIT, this is an interactive poetry book that includes a bunch of original poems by Janet Wong as well as a selection of "anchor" poems, many of which appear in previous books in the Poetry Friday Anthology series.

Anchor poems in HERE YOU GO are courtesy of some Poetry Friday friends, and other wonderful poets, including (in order of appearance) Naomi Shihab Nye, David Bowles, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kate Coombs, Margaret Simon, Eileen Spinelli, Ibtisam Barakat, Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, Joseph Bruchac, Renee M. LaTulippe, David L. Harrison and Robyn Hood Black.

HERE WE GO focuses on activism and how we can change our world. Readers meet four characters: David, Ameera, Jack and Jenna -- who are struggling with some timely issues, like being an immigrant; practicing a minority religion (Muslim); identity; what makes a family; what can we DO to make our world better? Each PowerPack provides a complete lesson -- a way into the material, poems to share, and an invitation to create one's own poem. The book is also a writing notebook, with space for young writers to include their responses.

And now, here's Janet Wong to answer a few questions for us!

IL: Welcome Janet! How did this book come to be?

JW: When Sylvia and I met together at NCTE in mid-November, we were despondent over the election. As bad as we felt, though, we knew that there were vulnerable children who felt even worse—and we wanted to create a book that would offer comfort and inspiration to them. We hope that HERE WE GO accomplishes this. We decided not to make explicit references to the election and instead to focus broadly on empathy, unity, and social change (in this case, fighting hunger).
IL: Wow, that's a book with a BIG idea! Did you encounter any difficulties or challenges?

JW: For me, a big challenge—but something that I wanted to do—was to put a “Trump supporter” in there. Jack’s dad never is described as a Trump supporter, but—pssst! you heard it here!—he is! I wanted to do this because I believe that Trump supporters were lumped together and dismissed as being all the same—and they’re not. We all have a friend, acquaintance, or family member who voted differently than we did; now is the time to get over it. In order for this country to move forward, I think we need to stop labeling each other as much as we do, and simply to come together as people. That’s what I’d like kids to take away from this book perhaps more than anything. Part of getting over it might require stepping into that person’s shoes or, as Naomi Shihab Nye describes in her poem “Blue Bucket” (the opening poem of the book, found below -- keep reading!), to carry "someone else’s bucket a while.”

IL: What are your hopes for the book?

JW: That HERE WE GO will find its way into the hands of 3rd graders who have been confused or fearful since the election and that it will give them comfort and security to read about kids like themselves: Muslim kids like Ameera, grandkids of immigrants like David, young feminists like Jenna. I also hope that teachers will read this book aloud to classrooms that include kids from conservative families; and when they hear this book, they might start to understand that what they're hearing at home isn’t the only way of thinking. And if my poem “Fake News” gets us ALL thinking more critically, what a much better place this will be!

Thank you, Janet! I think many of us have these same hopes for our children. Congratulations on the new book... and now let's take a peek inside!

The PowerPack I'd like to share with all of you today is the one that begins the book.
This spread introduces the pack!
 THEN we get this wonderfully thoughtful page to help open us up to find our poems... (including my answers to the "easy" ones. ;)
Imagine if the world were a little different or you were a little different. What would that be like? Choose one of the following questions and draw or doodle your response on the opposite page.

1. If you lived in a country at war, what would your life be like?
(my answer: I just wrote a whole middle grade novel about this! And I've also just written a series of poems set in Aleppo... bombs, dust, dead bodies, blood, missing parents, demolished buildings, trash everywhere, no bread, powdered milk, no electricity... it's pretty horrifying, and my heart breaks for those actually living it.)

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be?

3. If you could stay home and play all day, what would you choose to do?
(my answer: read! quilt! write poems! play cello! take a walk! cook - and EAT- good food!)

4. If you were the leader of your country, what one thing would you like to change?

5. If you didn't have a home, what would your life be like?
(my answer: there are quite a few books out lately about refugees. See this post.)

6. If you could change one thing about your family, what would that be?

7. If the whole world were listening, what would you like to say?
(my answer: Thank you. I love you. Forgive me. I forgive you.)
by Naomi Shihab Nye

What if, instead of war,
we shared our buckets
of wind and worry?
Tell me the story 
you carry there,
steeping in old pain
and future hope,
rich with fragrant
savory spices,
ginger, turmeric,
tarragon, find me
a spoon in one
of your pockets,
even if we don't
 speak the same language...

 you hold my bucket
a while, see what
the handle feels like,
and I hold yours,
and maybe both buckets
are empty and
we trade them forever...
Isn't that lovely? And here is the RESPONSE POEM:


In our writing journal this week
we are supposed to ask,
What if?

It can be something silly, like
What if
I could stay home and play all day?

Or something serious, like
What if 
I didn't even have a home?

Most kids are choosing a fun subject
and funny answers,
but I feel like taking a chance

and asking a hard question
even if I might not like my answer,
even if I might not have any answer at all.
- Janet Wong


What if -
instead of
this country and that country,
this state and that state,
these people and those people,
it was just
us here and us there?

What if?
- Janet Wong
I really love how accessible and timely this book is! I also love how it invites questions and doesn't demand answers. This is what it means to be a poet... to be open to the world, to play with words and to live in the questions. I hope you will include it in your reading and writing practice... also, toward the end of the book there are some great ideas for practical ways kids can start changing the world TODAY.

If you would like to win a copy of this book, Pomelo Books has generously donated FIVE copies to giveaway! Simply leave a comment by 11:59 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2017 answering one of the above JUST IMAGINE questions, and our cat Maggie will select the winners!
Happy day - go forth and #ReadYourWorld!