Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: MOVING (poem)


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For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 

This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.

MOVING

Our family moved A LOT. The year I turned 14 my father decided (or someone decided for him) that it was time to change jobs – a decision that would require my 9th move. (My father worked in hospital administration, and due to politics and personality conflicts and power grabs, those jobs are notoriously short-lived.) It came down to two possibilities: Birmingham, Alabama or Bangor, Maine. Although what I really wanted was to stay in Folsom where I was (at-last!) secure (I even arranged with a friend's family for me to live with them, but of course my parents didn't go for that!), I was rooting for Maine. (Like my father, I have an appreciation and fascination for extreme locations.) But, for whatever reasons, the decision was made for Birmingham. And so my life was made – or, so I made my life. I don't have any regrets, of course. I love my life. But I do wonder: who might I have become if our family had moved instead to Maine? I think I'll write a book about it. :)

Moving Day

Mama packs
us into the van

as Papa's camera
clicks one last picture
of the house –

say goodbye,
Mama instructs.

But how do you
say goodbye
to the sky?

- Irene Latham

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: MOUSE (poem)

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 

This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.

MOUSE

My first thought when I hear the word “mouse” is THE Mouse, as in Mickey Mouse of Walt Disney fame. Disney has been a big part of my life – not Mickey so much as the mice dressing Cinderella and THE RESCUERS. Other mice of my life: STUART LITTLE, MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH, THE CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE, THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. As a college student I earned a Mouster's Degree (by far my favorite degree!) at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Real-life mice experiences are few – most recently, using a mouse box to catch and release a family of mice that had made a home of our kitchen cabinets; feeding frozen mice to our son's pet snake; our young son Daniel being horrified by all the mouse droppings in the boat we kept in the basement; being on a poetry retreat, and first trying to catch mice (using a pillow case) from a friend's room, and then offering the friend refuge in my room when the mice kept coming.

When I mentioned this prompt yesterday to my mom, she asked me if I remembered this: when we went overseas, my mom packed shoes in boxes for us to grow into. When the time came to get the shoes out, when she opened the boxes she found a mouse nest (complete with teeny mice babies) in one of the shoes!

Here's a poem:

Give Me a Mouse Story

If you've ever watched a mouse
put on a blouse
you know how tiny
sleeves can be

and how the seams
once so sweet and even
can snag,
zig-zag
when caught on thorn,
nail or teeth.

You can't resist a smile
and a warm flush of tenderness
for those the world calls “pest”

if you've ever watched a mouse
put on a blouse.

- Irene Latham

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: MUSIC LESSONS

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 

This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.


MUSIC LESSON



You can read an ARTSPEAK! "Music Lesson" poem here. Another one called "The Guitarist" here. And a "Cello Love" poem here.
Irene as a young pianist :)

I've had a number of music teachers over the years: Judy Bruce, who was the church pianist at our church in Louisiana, and taught me and my sister in her home. For whatever reason, I remember my sister as being her favorite, and that's about all I remember!

Next up was Vona B. Gay, who was an elderly church organist in Birmingham, and also taught me in her home. I remember how she would endorse and scrawl “for deposit only” as soon as I gave her my mom's check – and then she would tuck it in a little box that sat on top of the upright piano. For a while a cute boy from another school took lessons right after me, and we planned a duet for the coming recital. I can't for the life of me remember the piece we played, but I do remember how nervous I was about sitting and playing next to this boy! Interestingly I can't remember what the boy looked like or what his name was... probably was so self-conscious... or I've hardwiped that awkward memory. I stayed with Vona until the end of high school.

Andrew and Eric
at piano recital
And then, after marriage and motherhood... I spent a lot of time taking my KIDS to music lessons. Andrew and Eric started on piano with Rosamund Black, who was – you guessed it! – a church pianist! My boys even played a duet for a recital, which still warms my heart to recall. Then Eric started drum, percussion, xylophone, guitar, voice, insert-name-of-instrument-here lessons. His most consistent teacher was Jay Burnham, percussionist for Alabama Symphony Orchestra. They had a lot of fun together, and I'm so grateful for impact Jay had on Eric's life. He also was hugely impacted by Laura Doss, then-choir director at ASFA. She's the one who convinced Eric that he could sing!

Daniel on cello
Somewhere in there Daniel took a couple of years of cello lessons from Craig Hultgren, who was then part of ASO. So many times I was just in the other room, writing a poem and halfway listening to the lesson. So I heard a lot about cello long before I ever decided to pick it up and play it myself.

When I did finally decide to play an instrument, I started on violin. The instructor I picked (off the internet) was not a good fit for me, and neither was the violin, though it's portability was a big reason I chose it. After just a few months I switched to the moody, more introverted cello. I took my first lesson with Craig Hultgren. It was terrifying! His studio was located at the back of the house, kind of like a porch area. It had a tiled floor and tall ceilings – there was a loft up there as well, and sometimes I'd wait there for another student to finish before my lesson would start. (Craig was so generous with his time! I remember our half-hour lessons often stretching to an hour. He never charged me a penny more – he was just that kind of guy.)

The most intimidating thing about Craig's studio was the wood platform stage in the center of the room, at the end of which was a giant mirror. (Seeing oneself play can really help identify solutions to cello problems!) The comforting thing was how Craig's black lab retriever would stretch out and sleep through the whole lesson. :)

I've written A LOT about my first lessons with Craig, because they kind of changed my life. And so many of the lessons I've learned through cello have impacted other areas of my life. For a while I was pursuing publication of this work, but have since abandoned it.

Which brings me to my current teacher Laura Usiskin. I started lessons with her about 4 years ago, when Craig moved away from Alabama. She's currently on maternity leave, and I think a great testament to how much I've learned from her is that I've been teacherless now for 2 ½ months, and I am still managing to work and learn new pieces on my own. I can hear Laura's voice, and I have an arsenal of tools and techniques to help get through the trouble spots. I am quite excited, however, to get her back! Though of course she is doing THE most important work of her life right now with that brand new baby girl. What a sweet time! Her studio is intimidating in a different way. There's a plush carpet (great for cello end-pins) and a gorgeous baby grand piano. Laura sits across from me during the lesson, her eagle eyes and ears catching all the goofs. She's an amazing teacher, and keeps things encouraging and positive. I'm so grateful to have landed in such good hands!

I'm the cellist just below and right
of the conductor Joe Lee
I've also benefitted from group music lessons – Laura does an adult-student group, and for the past couple of years I've participated in the Adult Strings Weekend in Tuscaloosa. This past spring I participated in an ensemble workshop, and this summer I joined a string orchestra. The music director has a great way of explaining things and working with us. Our concert is coming up in a couple of weeks. I'm excited. :)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Talking SOCCERVERSE with Liz Steinglass

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Deo Writer for Roundup.

So I kind of live a quiet life, and I deliberately do not invite a lot of news into it. I did, however, learn about the US Women Team's amazing 4th FIFA World Cup victory. Yay! And it gives me the perfect segue into Elizabeth Steinglass' new (first!) book: SOCCERVERSE: Poems about Soccer, with illustrations by Edson Ikê, brought to us by the good folks at Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mill and Kane.

Lucky me, I met Liz (and even presented with her about how poet's use  metaphor) at WWU's Poetry Camp back in 2016. She's every bit as brilliant and gentle in person as is her poetry on the page. And this book has been a long time in process... so what joy to see it finally on the shelves!

Here's Liz to tell us a little more about her experience.

The difficult: My challenge as a writer is to slow down and take my time. I always feel a strong internal rush to finish. I think it’s because I’m in a hurry to get past the uncomfortable uncertainty. I have to remind myself to take my time every step of the way--finding a topic, finding an approach, finding a form. I have to remind myself to stay open as long as possible to different options, to different creative possibilities. I also have to remind myself to take my time revising. Leaving my work in a drawer is an important part of the process. It enables me to see it with fresh eyes when I come back to it. I also have to remind myself that it’s okay if I don’t write, and I go for a walk or go to a museum or read a book instead because all of these are also part of the writing process. Instead of rushing to the finish line, I need to give the process a good long chance to unfold.
 
The delicious and the unexpected: I’m combining these because for me the unexpected IS the delicious. I absolutely love it when the process takes over, and I find myself writing something that surprises me. This happens when I let go of my plan, allow myself to get swept up in the writing, and give my brain room to make whatever strange connections it happens to make. What if a soccer field was a man with a beard? What if the game was in the hands of a giant who moved the ball by tipping the field back and forth?



 Anything else: Another delicious and unexpected aspect of the process was seeing Edson Ikê’s gorgeous illustrations for the first time. I absolutely adore the bold images and colors and the creativity. The illustrations give each poem additional layers of interest and feeling. I love the older man watching the kids play on his thick green beard, and the giantess holding the game in her hand.
She has a vine growing out of her sleeve which to me suggests that soccer is just as natural a part of life on earth as the plants. I think my favorite illustration is the red hand with the snorting bull on the page with the poem “Apology.” Yep, that feels like the hot, angry move that will earn you a red card. But what I love most of all is that the people in the book reflect the beautiful diversity of our world.


Congratulations, Liz, on a lovely debut!!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: MUSIC

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 



This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.

MUSIC


This prompt is coming a day after I listened to Matthew Winner's latest Children's Book Podcast about OPERATIC by Kyo Maclear, illustrations by Byron Eggenschwiler– which, among other things talks about “the soundtrack of our lives.” So this has been on my mind!

Music has always been a vital part of my life. From my father singing to me "Good Night Irene" or the family listening to the Goofy Gold albums (which contains some really racist songs)... Most memorable from my childhood, probably, are church hymns -- “The Servant Song” still has the power to complete wreck me. Also, church musicals: THE MUSIC MACHINE or DOWN BY THE CREEKBANK. I can remember blasting the stereo with this “Good Morning” song from BULLFROGS AND BUTTERFLIES to wake my parents on Saturday mornings. My mother's favorites like "Amazing Grace" and  “Morning Has Broken” were big influences. She was also a big fan of my piano recital song “Homecoming” by Hagood Hardy (which I can still play from memory). Then there were the boys in 8th grade singing to me "Come On, Irene" to the tune of "Come On, Eileen" and my early teen obsessions with Prince. :) Also Christian artists like Carmen, Sandy Patti, Amy Grant... When I was a senior in high school “The Time of Our Lives” from DIRTY DANCING was the prom theme. Later, songs from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, movie soundtracks... when I met Paul “Where've You Been” by Kathy Mattea (one of the sweetest love songs ever). How we had the harpist play “Ode to Joy” instead of the traditional wedding march might show my love of Beethoven's Ninth. (This love also shows up in one of my 2020 books... more on this soon!)

These days, I love the music my son Eric makes and also my Spotify playlists. Paul and I love going to concerts together -- I recently shared about Bob Seger. Also, I'm into Bach's cello suites and whatever song I happen to be learning on the cello at the moment... today, Bach's Fugue in C, for our summer string orchestra concert (coming up in just a few weeks)! This post really could be endless!

And, this year, as part of my daily reading, I picked up YEAR OF WONDER by Clemency Burton-Hill. The July 8 piece is Joplin's “Gladiolus Rag,” which is new to me. I am learning so much about composers, and music, and also finding new favorites along the way.

In my next Butterfly Hours post, I will turn this lens to music lessons, of which I've had a few -- but not nearly enough. :)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Movie Monday: The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project - MOVIE


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How's this for timing?! Today's prompt is "movie" and it falls on a Monday... and I have a new movie to share as a "Movie Monday" post. :) Read on!

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 



This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.

MOVIE

I have so many movie memories! Watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS over and over again with my siblings... also MARY POPPINS (and using umbrellas to try and "fly" off the back of the couch), THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE HOBBIT... My mom taking me – just me – to see THE BLACK STALLION.
in a funny coincidence,
we are playing
the E.T. theme as part
 of my summer string
orchestra concert!
Seeing E.T. as a family (all 7 of us at a small theater in historic downtown Covington, LA). Waiting in line for to see STAR WARS (somewhere in central Florida. I was young!). Seeing DIRTY DANCING (and many other movies like RAMBO and ROCKY) with church friends... and also with my father (at either Roebuck or Irondale theaters which no longer exist)!

Then there's our weekly date night tradition throughout our marriage, which started with DRIVING MISS DAISY on our first date (1990) and has brought us to many many movies... including our yearly tradition of watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. These days our adult sons often accompany us to the movies.

And now: Movie Monday! Most recently we did a TOY STORY marathon before going to the theater to see TOY STORY 4 (Trussville – our new “home” theater). So much fun! I love this series and can relate to those fears of being set aside, forgotten, outgrown... and also to the desire to do my job for my kid... and the pangs we all feel about growing up... and of course I have not just the child-me lens, but the parent-me lens. We were talking about which was our favorite TOY STORY movie, and I think for me it's 3 (though how can you not pick 1, when it started it all?!). And 4 is pretty awesome. I love how Woody was able to reinvent himself at the end... to every thing there is a season. There are many ways to love... beautiful and funny and tender, all!

One final memory: Our oldest son Daniel, who had some speech issues early on pronounced Toy Story “Tee Stee.” Adorable!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Poems Inspired by THE LOST WORDS



Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for Roundup. A few weeks ago Mary Lee was gushing about THE LOST WORDS by Robert Macfarlane, art by Jackie Morris -- a book I also love! (You can read my blog post here.) Mary Lee also shared that Spell Songs, a (magical, gorgeous!) musical companion to THE LOST WORDS will be released soon. I can't wait! And it inspired me to share with all of you a few LOST WORDS -inspired poems I wrote last summer -- a couple of them for others, as part of Tabatha's Summer Poem Swap. Enjoy!


Skunk


Stealthy as moonlight (and as predictable),
you saunter past blackberry brambles,
all regal swagger and peaceful gaze

Keeper of night,
you wear your stripe like a scar –
just part of who you are

Unfazed by fox, you rough your fluff,
release a warning scent
before lifting your tail in a blaze of battle –

No need to spray when wily fox turns tail,
leaps to safety (anything to avoid being musked)
while you forage for frogs and mushrooms

Kingdom of kudzu awaits your return,
soon welcomes you back to greentree hollow
where you curl into a furrow to nap away daylight hours
- Irene Latham


OWL
– for Tabatha


O heart-keeper, night sweeper,
sing to me of forestmoon
and joystruck mice --

Wing me to a world of leaves and summerlight,
     where words are starstorms dappled by sweet breezes.

Love me with your abiding SwapMama magic,
     swaddle me forever in your poem-feathered nest.

- Irene Latham


MONARCH
- for Michelle

Mother of summer, you belong
in a Grimm museum:

Only you carry both
fireball sun and inky

Night in the gossamer stitch
of your wings. Only you

Arc dizzily from milkweed to
milkweed, across three thousand

Roiling green oceans, your feet
coated in sweetdust to power you

Home to Mexico – before frost turns
you tipsy, transforms you to stone.

- Irene Latham

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: MOON

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 



This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.

MOON

full moon over our lake
(when we were out
night fishing)
No clear memories are coming to me for this one... but a LOT of fragmented bits. So I've decided to share a most recent "moon" bit. Paul and I have seen Bob Seger in concert a number of times, and one lyric that always always stands out to us is from "Shame on the Moon."

"oh, blame it on midnight
ooh shame on the moon"

I mean, who says that? The moon is generally portrayed as wise and gentle and all-seeing... and then... THIS. Turns out the song was originally written and recorded by Rodney Crowell, whose storytelling-song style reminds me of Johnny Cash. I love the way this music make me feel. I mean, the moon has secrets, right? She is an enchantress...I am enchanted.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Little Bit of Gee's Bend in my Back Yard

As many of you know, I love quilts. I particularly love Gee's Bend quilts. So, a few months ago, we had the brilliant idea to transform this RV shed (located in our back yard with no RV in it)...


... into a work of art. I wasn't sure where to find an artist for this very BIG project, so I started asking around. I got a few names -- AND THEN I walked into Clay Library to pick up some book from the hold shelf. Above the circulation desk was a new painting of the old (very charming) house that was the Clay Library until very recently. I asked who was the artist and was told, "it's Jenna, and she's setting up for an event in the other room." Jenna, who works at the library! Right then I talked to Jenna to see if she might be interested in doing our mural, and lucky us, she was! And so began the process of determining exactly what we wanted on the shed.

Jenna came out to look at the space and gave us some ideas -- her comment, "I had the measurements, but it's SO BIG!" But she wasn't scared off, she was ready to go! She told us her idea to incorporate the tree into the art and soon gave us a preliminary sketch to which we gave our comments.

Through that process we figured out what we really wanted -- a little chapel, sunflowers, a cat, and... Gee's Bend quilts on a line! I fell in love with Jenna's sketch, and we were off and running! Jenna's father (also an artist) helped her get started. It was sweet to watch them working together! Here's a few pictures of the process:

late April 2019



mid-May 2019


early June 2019







Jenna on the scaffolding,
working on the chapel -
early June 2019

close-up of Jenna's rendition
of a quilt by Annie Mae Young

and finally.... here's the gorgeous finished mural... didn't Jenna do an amazing job?!
close -up, mid-June 2019
(quilts from L-R after Annie May Young,
Lola Pettway, Mary Lee Bendolph)

our backyard!

Jenna Clark,
mural artist extraordinaire!

We feel so lucky to get to enjoy this beauty every single day... I told Paul now we can never move. :) Thank you, Jenna.. .and thank you, Gee's Bend quilters! xo

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: MAIL

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

For links to the prompts I've written on so far this year, please click on The Butterfly Hours tab above. 

This month's prompts include: mail, moon, mouse, moving, museum, music, music lesson, name, necklace, neighbor, nightgown.


MAIL

Since I moved around a lot as a kid, and we never lived near grandparents or other family, mail has long been a highlight in my life. I can remember jotting off a note to someone, then waiting each day for the mail truck to come... the mad rush to the mailbox...peeking inside and grabbing hold of the stack (if there was one)...shuffling through the letters, and what joy upon finding my name on an envelope! – and what disappointment when I didn't. I have subscribed to a number of mail-order things over the years – books (and more books!), dolls, recipes, scrapbook supplies – it's always a happy day when something surprising or expected shows up in the box.

The internet, of course, has added to the mail delight by bringing me many friends who live far from me. Also, because we live in a rural area and don't get to “town” all that often, I really depend on mail these days for both basic things (Hello Fresh meal service) and fun things (the new paddleboard). I know Amazon has its haters, but I love Amazon for how easy it makes some of my shopping. And that got me thinking... how does the mailbox feel to be such an essential part of connecting people?

A Message from Your Mailbox

Give me cool, smooth envelopes
with loopy, uneven handwriting,

show me colorful stamps
with inksplotched postmarks
from faraway lands.

Come, tug open my door
so I can see your eyes widen
as you whisk out 
what's waiting for you

or hear your breath hitch
as your fingers linger over a letter
written and sealed with love –

may your mail enjoy a smooth journey.
And when it arrives,
may it stitch invisible threads

that neither snow nor rain
nor heat nor gloom of night
can ever dissolve.

- Irene Latham