Friday, December 22, 2017

Do Rabbits Have Christmas?

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy's Blog for Roundup.

We are snug together for the holiday weekend, reading and cooking and tending to other holiday joys like last-minute gifting and wrapping and visiting... and reading poetry, of course!

In that spirit I wanted to share with you DO RABBITS HAVE CHRISTMAS? by Aileen Fisher, illus. by Sarah Fox Davies.

Confession: I am not all that familiar with Aileen Fisher's work, and it was Charles Waters who said I must watch the video about her done by Lee Bennett Hopkins and Renee LaTulippe over at No Water River... so I did! I learned Aileen loved nature and did NOT love any sort of public life. I was happy to find her book DO RABBITS HAVE CHRISTMAS at my library, and I've got to say: she had me at that wonderful wonder-ing question of a title! The poem with the same title closes the book -- I will leave you to discover it. Meanwhile I'd like to share these two favorites, both of which (interestingly) have some sewing/garment analogies:


I like days
with a snow-white collar,
and nights when the moon
is a silver dollar,
and hills are filled
with eiderdown stuffing
and your breath makes smoke
like an engine puffing.

I like days
when feathers are snowing,
and all the eaves
have petticoats showing,
and the air is cold
and the wires are humming,
but you feel all warm . . .
with Christmas coming.

- Aileen Fisher

Snow Stitches

Who's the one
in winter's house
who likes to stitch and sew?

Around the meadow's
new white blouse
some dainty footprints go.

No, not a hare.
No not a grouse.
But just a plucky little Mouse. . .

That's the one
whose footprints show
like stitches in the new white snow.

- Aileen Fisher

Happy Holidays to all! Wishing each a rabbit-y winter. xo

Friday, December 15, 2017

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Diane at Random Noodling for Roundup.


How's that for a title? This book is really a throw-back to Shel Silverstein, except with more structure? (I've been trying to figure out how best to describe it!) It's fun, irreverent, witty, and gets high high marks for its kid appeal.

The author actually is very good at rhyming, and I liked how "The Door" poem kept showing up, serving as a narrative thread. And the fun continues through the back matter.. ever heard of an "Outdex"? "For titles that did not make the final cut," of course! (My favorite: "Unpoemed Title".... NOT IN BOOK) Ha! The Acknowledgments page actually has a measure from "not very grateful at all" to "extremely grateful." I especially like one that falls somewhere in the middle: "- That guy who told me this book would never sell. (It kind of motivated me.)"

Probably NOT surprising to regular readers of this blog, my favorite poem of the bunch is not a silly/clever one, but a lovely unexpectedly tender one I'd like to share here:

Under My Dragon's Wing

Nothing can hurt me,
Nothing can sting,
When I'm hiding under my dragon's wing.

No one can find me,
No one can fight.
Under my dragon's wing, all is all right.

I hear them outside,
Asking, "Where can she be?
Look in the car! Now look in the tree!

Check the gazebo,
Peek in the wagon.
Search everywhere - but don't bother that dragon..."

And they'd never guess
That the dragon's my friend
And I'll hide by his side till the day meets its end.

I feel all his strength
And his warmth and his guile,
And I hear them all calling for me... and I smile.

For no one says "No" here,
And no one tells lies,
And here I can dream and I'm just the right size.

I'm all that I want;
I don't need a thing,
Here at home... under my dragon's wing.

- Chris Harris
We all need a dragon's wing, don't we?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Black Naturalist, A Book, and Hair

I've just been reading THE HOME PLACE: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. It's a memoir in which the author talks about his connection to the land and nature, and what it's like to be a black naturalist.

So many passages spoke to me! About being possessed by the land and fascinated by flight. About the power of nature to erase racial (and other divides). About wildness and water, and yes, also the impact of TV!

The author describes how watching ROOTS as a child changed his life. First he was filled with pride -- these were his people. But as the miniseries continued, those feelings got more complicated. He felt out-ed, and "even blacker." He understood, suddenly, racism.

Here's the passage I'd like to share today, in part, because it includes a "hair" experience -- and something I'm learning from early readers of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? is that pretty much everyone has a hair story.

It was the first time I'd had to grapple with race in a significant way. The most racist slights I'd dealt with to that point often took form in people not anticipating or misunderstanding the differences that made me me. I'd learned quickly, for example, that the brittle plastic combs handed out on picture day weren't meant to groom tightly packed black-boy hair. When one of the combs broke off in my little Afro, classmates laughed. Afterward, I asked to wear my hair cut short so that grooming wasn't an issue. And for as long as I can remember others had observed that I “talked white.” This somehow was supposed to make me better or smarter? For a few it make me a “sellout,” an Oreo – black on the outside and white within. But up to that point in my life, I hadn't yet taken a full-on gut punch of racism or truth and questioned my reality.

Roots set me- and the country- straight."
If you love nature -- and even if you don't -- read this book!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Whatever you feel, it's okay.

I've been reading like a madwoman lately -- so many amazing fall releases! One of my favorites so far is THE WAR I FINALLY WON by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This should come as no surprise, as I loved THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE... and everything else that Kim has ever written! See my post from earlier this year on JEFFERSON'S SONS.

Here's the thing about Ada: she has a hard time trusting. Being unloved by her mother -- the one person who is supposed to love you no matter what -- has done quite a number on her feelings of worth and loveability. Even when adoptive mother Susan's love is steadfast, Ada still doubts and does things to self-sabotage.

I am no expert, but I do have loved ones with exactly this issue! Which is why Ada feels so real to me. I love that Kim takes us into the confusion of Ada's emotions. Ada's such a strong heroine -- and yet so needy! It reminds me to reach out to those people in my life who appear strong, but maybe need love. And when they reject my efforts, to reach again. To never stop reaching.

Here's a favorite passage:

"On May 13, 1941, I celebrated my real birthday for the first time. I was twelve years old.

I hadn't known my birthday until I'd found my birth certificate last September. Susan had made up dates to put on our identity cards. She had celebrated our pretend birthdays too.

Mam never celebrated birthdays. Mam never celebrated anything.

Maggie was back at school, but Ruth and Jamie picked flowers from the hedgerows and covered the breakfast table with them. Susan gave me a piece of bacon and a whole fried egg for breakfast. She and Lady Thorton stacked presents by my plate – new books, three of them.

It was too much. Church-steeple panic crawled across my skin. I handed the bacon to Jamie. I pushed the books out of sight. I made myself choke down the egg. Susan would be angry if I wasted it.
I should have been used to birthdays. Man should have celebrated my birthdays.

“It's okay,” Susan said, watching my face. “Whatever you feel, it's okay.” She put her arms around me.

“Why didn't she love me?” I whispered.

“Because she was broken,” she said. “Remember that. She was broken, not you.”

I had the bad foot, but the foot worked better now. The foot wasn't the reason. Something else must be wrong with me. Most mothers loved their children.”"

Please don't miss this wonderful book!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Let it Snow!

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Lisa at Steps and Staircases for a tumblr Roundup.

We woke this morning to snow, which is always a newsworthy happening in Alabama! In anticipation, last night many schools instated a 2 hour delay. Now that the snow has actually arrived, some schools are calling it a complete "snow day." Love it!

Of course I had to take a few photographs... tears blurred my eyes because watching the snow drift so gently down fills me with hope for the world.

And then I remembered two new snow books I want to share:

WHEN THE SNOW FALLS by Linda Booth Sweeney, illus. by Jana Christy

This one features a sleepover with a lively Grandma and tight two-word sentences with a rhyming pattern. Here's the opening:

When the snow falls...

Frost paints.
Skies gray.
Windows sparkle.
Snow? Yay!

A lot of strong rhymes and great energy make this one score big points in the re-readability charts.

Also, SNOWBALL MOON by Fran Cannon Slayton, illus. by Tracy Bishop. I confess I haven't read this one yet, just some teasers, but I loved Fran's middle grade novel WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS, and this one promises rhyming wonder, and hello "snowball" moon! Isn't that brilliant?! I'll never think of a winter full moon now as anything else. 

If I was really on top of things I would share a fresh-penned original snow poem, but hello, it's snowing, I'm living my poem today! 

I did, however, enter "snow" into the search engine and found a few snowy lines I wrote who-knows-how-many years ago on a morning just like this one. Maybe I will work with them later today? Meanwhile here they are in all their rawness:

When it snows
you prop the window sash
with a book, 

invite the clean air inside
where you warm the piano bench
without him.

The still air ghosts into the room
and carries out with it 
strands of Schubert.

Your eyelids drift as snowflakes,
your cheeks pinken
as your fingers dance --

stillness needs music 
and music needs stillness,
and if he asked you to come back,

you would.

- Irene Latham
Happy Snow Day! xo

Thursday, December 7, 2017

One Last Look at Abundance, My 2017 One Little Word

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! On this, our final roundup for 2017, we are discussing our experiences with our One Little Words.

My word for 2017 has been ABUNDANCE. When I selected the word I could not have imagined what abundance was in store for me -- I didn't know we would get a lake house and travel to far-flung spaces and write so, so many words... I didn't know I'd spend so many hours poring over old letters and photographs, emptying drawers and filling up boxes to donate or give away... I didn't know the wide expanse of emotions I'd experience this year -- grief and joy and love and hope and despair ... what an overflowing year this has been!

It's interesting to me how one of the big things I've learned this year is about how little I need. And how much easier it is to enjoy my life when it is simple. Even something like getting dressed to go somewhere is a better experience when the closet isn't jammed up with so many someday-clothes. I like the simplicity that comes from having less, and how this opens me to the abundance of other things: nature, time with loved ones, my writing.

One of the lessons I find I must learn over and over again is my own worth -- I am enough. This year's focus on abundance, on trusting that I will --and have been-- so well cared for in my life, in spite of our because of hardships, has brought me peace and confidence. I AM enough. I am exactly where I need to be. It's the strangest thing how what seems like such a simple shift turns out ot be monumental in how I engage in my own life!

photo by Eric
Something I can always fall back on, something I constantly return to, is gratitude. How powerful to see -- and shape!-- one's life through a sense of abundance. All those pesky problems and worries shed themselves with no thorns to cling to. Life flows, like water, which brings us back to the lake, our lake house, how this thing we didn't plan for, couldn't have anticipated, has changed us in such profound ways! So much so that we've decided to move to the lake permanently. Why wait?

So, oddly, sitting in gratitude and abundance this year has helped me believe that I, we, deserve this abundance not just on the weekends, but all the time. And it is right there waiting for us. All we have to do is open ourselves to it.

Here's a poem from Linda Gregg's book THE SACRAMENTS OF DESIRE:

Singing Enough to Feel the Rain
by Linda Gregg

I am alone writing as quickly as I can,
dulled by being awake at four in the morning.
Between the past and future, without a life,
writing on the line I walk between death
and youth, between having and loss.
Passion and bravery absolutes, and I don't
have anything but the memory of Aphrodite's
elbow pushing up through the dirt, golden
with the sunlight on it. I am far from there
in a hurry not to miss the joining,
struggling to explain that this worse time
is important. It is just past autumn now
and the leaves are down, wet on the road.
Some of Her shoulder showed, but not enough
to tell whether She was facing my way.
Any of it is most of it, as any part
of Cezanne is almost all of Cezanne. Now
is so late in the world that there is silence.
Heart is as beautiful as ever. What can we
expect of a woman buried in the earth?
Most of it is enough. Some of it is almost
enough. Just as I am a body too, and if he
leans down over me there will be a world.
A train goes past making an incidental sound.
Something is nourished by the loss. An ending
and beginning at once. The world does not sing,
but we do. I sing to lessen the suffering,
thinking of the factory girl Hopkins said
lived a long time on the sacrament alone.
But I also sing to inhabit this abundance.


2018 Spiritual Journey Thursday Sign Up

Please sign up to host next year! Please leave your chosen date, blog url, and topic in comments. (If we are not yet email buddies, please send me an email: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com so I can get in touch with you!)

January 4 - Margaret (choosing your One Little Word)
February 1 - Donna (the heart)
March 1 - Karen
April 5 - Carol
May 3 - Violet (Special Days)
June 7 - Margaret (summer)
July 5 - Doraine
August 2 - Pat
September 6 - Donna
October 4 - Jan
November 1 - Karen
December 6  - reflections on 2018 One Little Word with Irene at Live Your Poem
Finally, please leave your link below!

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Gee's Bend Christmas

One of the sweet moments for me at NCTE in St. Louis was attending the Awards Luncheon and hearing THE QUILTS OF GEE'S BEND by Susan Goldman Rubin named an Orbis Pictus Honor book. I couldn't wait to get home and order a copy for myself!

And I *meant* to mention the book in my talk later that day, that focused on how the practice of poetry influenced my writing of LEAVING GEE'S BEND.

Me, speaking.
LEAVING GEE'S BEND actually started as a poem entitled "The Quilts of Gee's Bend." That was the first piece of writing I did as I was first feeding my obsession with the quilts and the quilters and their stories.

Later, when I was struggling to find the narrator for my story, I used poetry to learn more about Ludelphia -- and that exercise was the key to me finding my way. I used George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" and allowed Ludelphia to write her own version. Here it is:

I Am From

by Ludelphia Bennett

I am from Mama’s wide hips
and a sliver of hickory
that went flying from Daddy’s ax,
then had to go and land
square in my eye.

I am from a cornshuck mattress,
afterbirth buried beside the cabin,
newspaper plastered walls,
rain running straight through the roof,
Aunt Doshie and broken eggs.

I am from a curve in the Alabama River
orange dirt that likes to settle
right between your toes,
cotton and sorghum and corn
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot on Sundays.

I am from quilts strung on a line
a triangle of denim over my right eye
scraps of cloth and feed sack,
the sash torn from Mama’s calico apron
and ripped into strips.

I am from Every quilt tells a story
Ruben’s fishing pole
and Etta Mae’s yellow dress,
Big Mama’s story
about them red flags on the slave ship.

I am from Delilah braying
like there’s no tomorrow
and in my pocket a needle
and thread and bits of cloth
giving me a reason to keep on going.

Also, my background as a poet has everything to do with my (heavy!) use of figurative language in LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I shared with the group a book gifted to me by Homewood Middle School entitled "The Language of Gee's Bend." Even I hadn't realized how much figurative language was in that book!

Here are some examples:
Mrs. Cobb... looked just like a hog that's done ate too much.

Then the door swung wide creaking like a chorus of frogs.

A sharp breeze caught the tail of her apron and made it fly up like a kite. 

"Delilah can wait just a minute," Mama said, her voice coming out jagged as a saw blade.

She was holding herself tall and stiff, her face blank as a cotton field that's ready for seed.

My mind was empty as a plate that has been licked clean.

Her voice turned to syrup.

Her hair... was caught up in the short braids she liked, the ones that always reminded me of blackberry brambles.

It was like the sky opened up and poured sunshine out of a honey jar.
Me, quilting.
So, obviously, poetry and Gee's Bend is a big part of my writing story, and my LIFE story. Which is why I am thrilled to see this beautiful book receiving recognition and hopefully finding a bigger audience. It features many of the FSA photos that I share when I give presentations. It includes a pretty comprehensive history of the area -- the struggles and successes -- told in an accessible way. It's got actual words from actual quilters. And there's a 'how to make a quilt square' tutorial in the back. I so hope this inspires some young folks to learn to quilt!

And guess what book is the perfect companion? Yep. LEAVING GEE'S BEND. Happy reading!