Friday, July 19, 2024

The world inside the whale is dark, briny (poem)

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit marvelous Margaret at Reflections on the Teche for Roundup.

For today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART, I have an unidentified piece of art. I found it on Pinterest, and sadly I can't credit the artist. It's a pretty great piece!

As I was writing my poem, I was thinking about the vortex of illness, and how consuming it is. 

Its title is reminiscent of a poem I wrote during 2020, my "Red" year: The World of the Vase is Dark, Wet. But the messages of the poems are completely different! Thanks so much for reading.


The world inside the whale is dark, briny


Mountains rise on one side,

tides on the other.

I am pitched forward,

back. I am upside-down.


My boat swirls past,

disappears.

If I wanted to, I could

stop. I could follow the boat.


But I want to live.


I kick, I surge.

I pull my way past

sharks, eels.


The world inside the whale

is dark, briny.

I am rising, surfacing.

I am a rainbow spouting

from a whale's blowhole.


I am free!

- Irene Latham


Friday, July 12, 2024

Napa Valley Magic poem

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit radiant Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge for Roundup.

First, don't miss these two JOY-filled picture books: JOYFUL SONG by  Newman, illus. by Susan Gal and JUMP FOR JOY by Karen Gray Ruelle, illus. by Hadley Hooper. Both are beautiful and rate high on re-readability!

This week I've got a summer-moon magic, California dreamin', animals-are-dancing ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem for you! This piece by Barbara Strawser brings me so much joy...all her work does!

Once, many summer-moons ago (2006!), Paul and I took a trip to Napa Valley. Among other delights, we visited a working olive oil farm. Instead of a wine tasting, we had an olive oil tasting! Such a special experience...we also still talk about the burgers we ate that day at Mustards Grill. Food is everything. :)


Napa Valley Magic


at night frogs
dance with morning
doves

dragonflies jingle
turtle's doorbell

and angels
descend
to plump grapes
with moonlight

- Irene Latham

Friday, July 5, 2024

Fox Listens poem

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday!  Be sure to visit watermelon-juicy Jan at bookseedstudio for Roundup.

Paul and I were talking about how it feels like we are in a new chapter, and it might be called the "Two Dips a Day" chapter, because lately we have been taking a morning dip and an evening dip in the lake! 

Unfortunately, the reason for the double-dips is I have the hives...oh, the itching is like being on fire. Awful.

 So maybe this is the universe telling me I NEED a new chapter. It can be really hard for me to slow down and relax. I have to make time to DO NOTHING. And to do nothing in the water with all the lake-joy lizards, frogs, flowers, breeze, laughter, splashes, etc... glorious respite from the itching...AND with my best friend beside me...ahhh.

Also, I posted over at Smack Dab in the Middle on the topic of mystery, as in the mysterious source of our power, writing, and creativity. You can read the post here. 


That brings us to this week's reading life, which has been lovely! I'm still thinking about Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee. The book examines the aesthetics of joy, things like abundance and harmony and surprise. It gave me some new ideas for ways to further infuse my daily life and living space with joy.


And how about Black Girl You Are Atlas by Renee Watson? It's a short collection of poems beautifully illustrated by Ekua Holmes, and I found a lot ot love!

The poem "Love Shows Up" is basically a list of all the ways love shows up in the speaker's Black girl life. My favorite stanza:

"Love shows up in spring when the leaves return to trees,

keeping their promise that they'd be back."



The poem “Penny Fountain,” which is full of wishes, ends with this:


"Wish for healing the invisible, aching places.

Wish for someone to love you the way you need it.


Wish for no need

for wishes, for no prayer to go

unanswered."



“Lessons on Being a Sky Walker” opens with these lines:


"When they tell you

the sky is the limit, vow to go past that."



The poem "Underbelly" is a list of ways to think about one's body. I especially love this line:

"Black girl body be lighthouse."



"Turning Sweet Sixteen” opens with a challenge:


'But what if I want to be sour? What if when you ask me, How are you?

I tell you the truth. I am not fine all the time."


Here's a favorite line from the poem "What I Know About Rain":


"Sometimes rain is just rain."



The book ends with the poem with a marvelous message for girls of all ages and ethnicities:

"Love It All"

All your body parts, all your imperfections, everything. Lovely!

It's been a week of listening -- listening to summer, listening to my loved ones, listening to my body. No wonder for my ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem I was drawn to this rendering of a little fox listening by Oregon artist Jennifer Lommers. I wanted the ending to go against what one might expect! Thanks so much for reading (listening). :)



Fox Listens


Fox listens as light stirs

the forest floor


Fox listens to the deer

vanish


Fox listens as stones

call across centuries


Fox listens to beetle and owl,

to lichen-sheathed log


all of them singing

the same refrain


forget me when I'm gone


- Irene Latham

Friday, June 28, 2024

I Have a Garden Angel poem

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

words attendees selected
from Highlights Word Garden
Well. This week did NOT go as expected. Due to travel troubles, I was not able to attend Highlights in person, which was heartbreaking...but I WAS able to connect with everyone virtually! How lucky are we we live in a day and age where such creative alternatives are possible?

Charles is such a champ, and Lacresha Berry is sunshine, and poets are such beautiful people...shout out to all the attendees, including Poetry Friday friends Linda, Tracey, and Marcie...WOW. What amazing work you're doing! I loved connecting with all of you. And the team at Highlights is just the BEST. I'm so so grateful! And inspired! And ready to write all the things!

This week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem is inspired by Pennsylvania folk artist Barbara Strawser. (Since I couldn't be in Pennsylvania...) I love Barbara's work! I've got a few more images of her work I'll likely write about later this year. But for now, please meet my garden angel. She's yours, too, if you need her. xo



I Have A Garden Angel

I have a garden angel.

Her robes buzz

with butterflies and bees.

She sings green songs

of love and hope,

and if I should collapse

to my knees,

she sends along

gentle sunbeams

and a refreshing breeze.

All the while, flowers sing,

weeds shimmy.

Sun plays hide and seek.

As for rain? Well, with rain

one never knows.

But my garden angel

forever glimmer-glows.

My garden angel never

leaves me.


- Irene Latham

Friday, June 21, 2024

Summer Lovin!

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday. Be sure and visit terrific Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup.

Summer is here! Wow, what a hot one so far. We've had some lovely lake days... and in just a few days it will be time to return to the Pocono Mountains to hang out with Poetry Peeps at Highlights! 

This will be my third time to teach with Charles, and our third season. In 2022, we were there in spring, and last year we were there in autumn...so YAY for summer! I am excited to share this time with some Poetry Friday friends, too. Safe travels!

I've just read another beautiful nature book! The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year by Margaret Renkl. This is a lovely yearly reader with an entry for each week of the year. Margaret references a lot of poems, and her prose reads like poetry in many places. Mary Oliver fans in particular will be pleased and inspired. Take a look!

This week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem is kind of a fun one inspired by a piece by Joe Ortega. 

I could have picked this metaphor apart, but I decided to let it be. It's so fantastical, how can it not work??! You may have a different opinion, of course. Thanks so much for reading.




Summer is an Alligator Eating an Ice Cream Cone


no matter how much

you savor it


such sweet

creamy

goodness

soon drips,


disappears


- Irene Latham

Friday, June 14, 2024

Quilts, Again. And a Bird Book Not to Be Missed.

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Denise at Dare to Care for Roundup.

I have been under the weather all week (grrr), but finally feeling a bit better. Alaska feels VERY far away...we had such a great time, but wow isn't illness consuming??

In Reading Life news, I'm always on the lookout for new nonfiction poetry collections, and I've got a fun one for you this week. The City Sings Green & Other Poems About Welcoming Wildlife by Erica Silverman, illus. by Ginnie Hsu, brought to us by the good folks at Clarion Books.

 It features poems about the ways humans accommodate certain species, like a possum rope bridge in Busselton, Australia and a lighted tunnel beneath a highway for little blue penguins in Oamaru, New Zealand. 

Several of the poems are carried across multiple spreads to nice effect, and there are nonfiction text boxes too. It also includes lots of back matter, including "Children's Books Celebrating City Wildlife," which was missing a few of my favorites (why didn't they ask me??), most notably Sarah Grace Tuttle's Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife. These two titles are already BFF and should totally be presented in tandem.

Some for-grown-up books I've enjoyed lately:


The Backyard Bird Chronicles by Amy Tan - I know we have a LOT of birder-poets among us, and you will LOVE this book. It features Amy's actual notebook entries and drawings of birds. Absolutely lovely. I was reminded of that marvelous film My Octopus Teacher because Amy goes to the same place every day (her backyard) and she really gets to know the birds and other critters who share that space. Such a great reminder to all of us of the power of a daily practice. We don't necessarily need new and different; sometimes the most powerful way of looking is deeper and deeper into the same.

The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz

The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden by Stanley Kunitz

How to End a Love Story by Yulin Kuang (perfect for Emily Henry fans!)

The Things We Leave Unfinished by Rebecca Yarros (dual timelines, romance, and a twist at the end that I never saw coming!)

For this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem, I am still writing kind of out of season! Today it's an early-spring airing of the quilts piece that caught my imagination...I decided to write the poem as a triolet (which is reliably a way "in" for me when I don't know what else to do). Thanks so much for reading!


Airing the Quilts


After dark, drowsy hours

a welcome resurrection:

now quilts flirt with birds and flowers.

Forget the dark, drowsy hours;

this moment is ours!

Spring is a stitchery of perfection

after dark, drowsy hours.

Welcome, resurrection!


- Irene Latham

Friday, June 7, 2024

With Love from Alaska

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit for Roundup.

I am away from my desk but wanted to pop in with a quick ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem from Alaska! 

While the forget-me-not is Alaska's state flower, some argue that it should be fireweed. 

Fireweed is quintessential Alaska. It grows everywhere and for the whole summer season (June to September). Turns out it got its name because it's the first thing to pop up after fire...which makes it a resilient and arresting flower...and a SURVIVOR! Of course I wanted to write about it! 

Many thanks to Chelsea Jones for sharing her Alaskan art with the world. And thank YOU for reading!


after long season

of ruin, we are fireweed

rising from ditches


- Irene Latham

Friday, May 31, 2024

BOXER BABY BATTLES BEDTIME by Mia Wenjen

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Janice at Salt City Verse for Roundup.


Today I'm happy to welcome Mia Wenjen, aka 
PragmaticMom to the blog! 
You may know Mia as the woman behind the annual Read Your World Day celebration, which showcases multicultural books for kids.

She's got a new book called Boxer Baby Battles Bedtimeillustrated by Kai Gietzen (Eifrig Publishing, May 26, 2024) that came about as a result of a Kickstarter campaign. (Mia makes things happen!)  Paperback copies available here

BOXER BABY is Mia's ode to boxing, stay-at-home dads, toddlers who hate napping, and figurative language. It features MANY well-known idioms that have boxing origins! Talk about a poet's playground! The book trailer is here.

Welcome, Mia!

DIFFICULT:

MW: Boxer Baby Battles Bedtime! is my ode to stay-at-home dads like my husband who stayed home for two years with our oldest, now 24 years old!  He agrees that taking care of children is the hardest job you’ll ever love. However when we had our second child, he threw in the towel and went back to work, and I stayed home!


FRESH:

MW: Boxer Baby will do anything to resist naptime, bobbing and weaving to escape from Dad. She’s no lightweight and she never seems to get tired! 


DELICIOUS: 

MW: Our treat for readers is the “Easter Egg” we planted in the hallway: Leila Ali, Clarissa Shields, and the great Katie Taylor. I spill the beans in my author’s note.


ANYTHING ELSE:

MW: Illustrator Kai Geizen is a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and my daughter’s good friend from when they both took a January session illustration class on the Big Island of Hawaii to draw endangered plants. Going to Hawaii to learn about sustainability in January instead of staying in Providence? That is a one-two combination that I can get behind!

---

Thank you, Mia, for sharing your BOXER BABY with us! I've got several wee ones in my life who love it. 

Today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem is written as a Square Couplet, which is basically the same number of syllables per line as the number of lines. (Here it's eight lines of eight syllables each.) I'm revisiting work by George Voronovsky, and, after a very busy season, I find myself (again) writing what I need to learn. Thanks for reading!


Spring Reminder

Spring is a busy time, a let's-
get-things-done time. Spider spins, sun
simmers. Mushrooms pitch their tents.
Herons intercept schooling fish
as sailboats skim morning ripples.
Bluebells ring the nest awake—soon,
nestlings! Their gaping mouths will re-
mind us to slow down. Trust. Wait.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Writing Poems in the Wrong Season

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Michelle at More Art 4 All for Roundup.

First a word about Katey Howes, whom I had the privilege of sharing time with at Highlights in 2022. What a bright spirit, and what beautiful books she helped to create! It's difficult to process her passing. Sending love and hugs to all who mourn her.

The good folks at Highlights will be establishing a named scholarship fund in memory of Katey, but that link won't be available until next week. If you'd like to go ahead and send something, here's what to do:

Make a contribution to the General Scholarship fund and put a note about Katey in the comments section. 

And now: it's Spring, obviously. So why is my muse bringing me poems about FALL??

 I don't know, but I have learned to just roll with it. 

I am loving learning about folk artist George Voronovsky, who has some work on exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta. I'll be writing after more of his art later this year. 

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this ArtSpeak: FOLK ART little blast of autumn! Thanks so much for reading.




it's fall, howl the hounds,
let's scuttle up flannel sky,
give Moon a snuggle

- Irene Latham



Friday, May 17, 2024

Gee's Bend quilt poem

 

Irene Latham & Mama
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Patricia at Reverie for Roundup.

I acquired some new folk art last week at Homestead Hollow. And that got me thinking that I might enjoy writing some of my ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poems after pieces I've collected over the years! So, today, my poem is written after the small quilt we commissioned Gee's Bend quilter Mary Ann Pettway to create for us. (14 years since my first middle grade novel Leaving Gee's Bend was released, and I am still quilting and collecting quilts!) It hangs in our bedroom, and I adore it. The title "Going to Town without a Pocket" is what Mary Ann named the quilt. Such a great title, I had to use it!

Aside: Gee's Bend quilts have been in the news lately thanks to Target.

Before I share the poem, today's lovely PF hostess Patricia last week left a query in comments about how I use line breaks and (sometimes) right justification. How do I make these decisions? Here are my quick answers (thank you, Patricia, for asking!):

Regarding line breaks. In my opinion, the most important word on any line of poetry is the LAST word...because that word acts as a hinge, or a page turn. (The second most important word would be the FIRST word of the line!) You want to entice your reader forward to the next line, so the last word on a line is a great place for a powerhouse word!

 I REALLY don't like conjunctions (a, and, the) or prepositions as last words in the line...which is why I am super-picky about striking lines I choose for Golden Shovel poems. 

I'm also paying attention to natural pauses when saying the poem aloud in addition to line length as I break lines. I want the poem to have clarity and to LOOK pleasing on the page. 

I also really enjoy playing with enjambment -- I get a thrill out of lines that can mean multiple things and find this is a great way to add delight and surprise to a poem.

About justification of the poem. I pretty much always start out in my word doc with left-justified lines... and then (like last week) the lines may migrate as I work in Canva to digitally marry the art image and my poem. 

Sometimes the left-justified just doesn't look good, so I'll try right-justified or center-justified. And then I'm like, wow, I really like this! I should try this more often! 

One thing I love about this weekly ArtSpeak poetry practice is how it pushes me out of my comfort zone and gets me trying new things. It's a great place to be flexible and to be reminded of how much freedom we have as poets. Fun! Thanks so much for reading.

Going to Town Without a Pocket

No pocket for feathers,
petals, or perfect-for-
thumb-rubbing stones.

No coins, no toothpick.
No poem tenderly printed
and folded to give a friend.

My heart wide, swallowing
all that is fleeting:
moon, maple, morning.

I keep the world
under my eyelids, in my ribs.
All day I carry it with me.

- Irene Latham

Friday, May 10, 2024

Space Cat Poem

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Linda at A Word Edgewise for Roundup.

Isn't May full of all the things?! I'm away from my desk today, with my mom at an outdoor arts and crafts event. If we're lucky, we may even pop into a yard sale or two.

For today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem, I've got a cat for you! It's not my first cat poem here at Live Your Poem...

I followed a little cat one day
What a Cat Needs
Three Black Cats
In the Company of Kittens
old cat wakes (haiku)
Cat's Life
cat on windowsill (haiku)
Cat Bath
Cat and Bird

But it is my first SPACE cat! Thanks so much for reading.




Space Cat

Have you ever seen

a cat like that?

Two surprised eyes

and whiskers wide

as starships,

her oversize ears

must hear the heart-

beat of the galaxy,

the patter of all

paws and claws

as she leaps from

one life to another.

- Irene Latham



Friday, May 3, 2024

Poems About Home

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit boundless Buffy Silverman for Roundup.

I've spent the week blessedly AT HOME gardening, reading, writing, cleaning...and lunching! Seems like every day I've had a lunch date. 'Tis the season!

If you want a peek inside my reading-as-a-writer life, be sure to check out my post over at Smack Dab in the Middle, where I share excerpts from a few MG books in my HUGE computer folder titled "Books I've Read." (Yes, recording beautiful words written by others is an important part of my life and writing practice!) Prepare to be inspired.

Also, this just in: check out the cover reveal of mine and Charles' debut anthology THE MISTAKES THAT MADE US (coming Oct. 1 from Carolrhoda/Lerner) over at Poetry for Children. So many thanks to Sylvia Vardell!

One of the books I'm excited about is HOME by Isabelle Simler, translated from French to English by Vineet Lal, brought to us by the good folks at Eerdman's. It contains 27 poems all about homes made by birds, ant, spider, sea snail...and each one has a home/human-made-building word in the title, like the comet moth's "Silky Apartment" or the cathedral termite's "Clay Skyscraper"  or elf owl's "Cactus Cabin." 


Isabelle Simler
The palette is kind of dark and enchanting, and each spread showcases realistic renderings of both animal and home. Back matter includes "More About These Amazing Animals" a Glossary, and a list of Recommended Resources. End papers charmingly show man-made home structures. Beautiful choice for animal/nature lovers and engineer/builders alike! Thank you to the publisher for granting permission for me to share two poems from the collection.


MOSSY MINIATURE HOME

of the hummingbird

Family Trochiladae

My teeny-tiny

featherweight house

has grown under a leaf.

Over several weeks,

I've patiently gathered

numerous bits

of moss and lichen

and, little by little,

shaped my jewel case home.

In this doll's teacup of a nest

lin two hummingbird eggs,

each the size of a pea.


- Isabelle Simler

BLUE PAVILION

of the satin bowerbird

Ptilonorhynchus violaceus

I have a real flair for home decoration.

Azure bottle caps and petals catch my indigo eye

and excite the designer in me.

I've built an arched avenue from sticks and twigs.

I've painted the walls with berry juice

and stuck some flowers here and there.

My collection os objects is a garden of love.

At the blue hour, I shall make my entrance

to steal the heart of my beloved.

- Isabelle Simler


And now for today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART. Since we're on the topic of "home," I've selected a piece by Cheryl Bartley that features a lake house. Thanks so much for reading!


Lake Cottage

This little house our ours
sits beside a lake full of stars.

Our garden grows rainbows,
thanks to sunsplash and rainglow.

How lucky we are to live
in a place with so much to give!

This little house of ours;
you and me, kissing the stars.

- Irene Latham

Friday, April 26, 2024

Haiku Journeys of One Kind and Another

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure and visit Ruth and her dream of Haiti at There is no such thing as a godforsaken town for Roundup.

Whew, what a National Poetry Month it's been! And it's not over yet...I travel today for a conference tomorrow...and then...MAY!!!

By the way, it has come to my attention that no one has received my annual NPM Live Your Poem postcard. I sent them out the first week of April, but they are LOST, I tell you. LOST! (I've been told several things...apparently there are big problems at the Birmingham USPS distribution center. I don't know, because I've mailed other things this month that made their destinations...but nary a postcard!) Sigh. Maybe they will find you eventually... I hope so.

Today I'm excited to share about Climbing the Volcano: A Journey in Haiku by Curtis Manley, illus. by Jennifer Mann (Neal Porter/Holiday House, 2024). It's a story of family's hike up South Sister Volcano in Oregon told in fifty haiku.

Here's the opening haiku:

dormant volcano—

but at sunrise each day

it blazes


Along the way, the child-narrator shares about encounters with other people are on the trail; change of temperatures; mosquitoes!; other animal encounters (marmot, dogs, owl, butterfly..); adventures at the summit (snowballs, anyone?); sliding down; and looking back up the mountain in wonder.


One of my favorite middle-of-the-book haiku:

lost—

the trail is under the snow

somewhere

The book ends with a ends with a great question... you'll have to read it to find out what! And back matter includes info about South Sister Volcano, Geology of the Cascade Mountain Range; What to bring to climb a mountain; A little bit about haiku; and more info about the Living things mentioned in the haiku (flora and fauna).

Check it out! It's a winner.

Perhaps inspired by Climbing the Volcano, this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART is a haiku...or rather, THREE haiku! This art by Mose Tolliver just speaks to me, I guess...I couldn't decide which one to post, so I offer you all three. :) Thanks so much for reading!

Night performs secret

mysteries—fire where there was

no flame before

- Irene Latham



Full moon large and low

crimson flame ignites the stars

night garden

- Irene Latham



My longing stretches

crimson across dark mountains—

where are you moon?

- Irene Latham

Friday, April 19, 2024

Animals in Pants, Animals in Dreams (poems!)

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit innovative Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup. Her WhisperShout writing workshop and magazine for young writers sound amazing!

Margaret Simon & Irene Latham
Last week it was my pleasure to hang out and present with Margaret Simon at the Kaigler Book Festival at USM (home of the amazing deGrummond Children's Collection!). It was so great to see attendees writing poems in our session!! I made so many new friends and got to catch up with folks I haven't seen since before covid...good books, good times (as Lee Bennett Hopkins would say!).

If you've been thinking of joining Charles and me at Highlights this summer for a Working Retreat June 23-26, NOW is the time to sign up! Just a few slots left...AND we've added a special guest: Carter Hasegawa, editor at Candlewick, who has worked with quite a few poets on quite a few poetry books! We are SO EXCITED about all we will surely learn from him!



Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Suzy Levinson, author of ANIMALS IN PANTS (illus. by Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell, published by Abrams) This book charmed the pants off of many of us last year, and continues to enchant! Suzy is a wonder, and I'm excited she has another poetry book coming..read more about that below! 

Today she's responding to a few prompts in relation to her experience with ANIMALS IN PANTS.

Welcome, Suzy!

DIFFICULT:

ANIMALS IN PANTS probably wouldn’t exist if pantoums weren’t so impossible to write.

I love to write verse that sounds loose and conversational but actually falls neatly within the strict parameters of meter and rhyme scheme. Those parameters always seem to free me up, creatively. So logic would suggest that I’d enjoy adding even more parameters by using traditional forms like sonnets, villanelles, or pantoums, right? Wrong. The extra rules that come with certain forms break my brain a bit, and I often wind up struggling to keep it all sounding natural and fun.


Which brings me to late 2016: I was so frustrated with my progress on a pantoum that I decided to scrap it entirely and invent my own poetic form instead. My new form was called a “pantaloon” (take that, pantoum!), and the only rule was it had to be about animals in pants. Much easier!

Fun fact: the original title of this collection was PANTALOONS. The publisher thought (quite rightly) that it might be confusing from a marketing standpoint, so we changed it. But my agent and I still secretly call it PANTALOONS and I’m sure we’ll never stop.

FRESH:
I wrote the first poem of this collection, “Cat-itude,” long before I knew there was going to be a collection at all. The piece was an assignment for a writing class. Our homework prompt was to “choose two incongruous things and find a way to connect them.” This really resonated with me! So much so that I’ve returned to it again and again over the years, whenever I’m at a loss for ideas. Nothing shakes up my imagination and produces fresh material like taking two things that don’t belong together and smushing them together anyway.

So with “Cat-itude,” I connected a cat with pants. It was so fun that after the whole pantoum debacle (see above, ha), I decided to keep the ball rolling, writing the “pantaloons” that eventually became ANIMALS IN PANTS. And a while later (after buying my nephew a very strange-looking set of dinosaur-head cars for his birthday), I tried connecting dinos with cars, and boom: my second collection, DINOS THAT DRIVE, is coming out next year!

True story: at lunch with my agent a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a new idea, but I wasn’t sure if I should pursue it. I was concerned because I’d be using the same old prompt again, connecting two incongruous things, and maybe that would make the project too similar to ANIMALS IN PANTS and DINOS THAT DRIVE. My extremely patient agent looked at me for a second, then said, “But Suzy, you realize that those are your two books that have…um…sold?”

Long story short, it’s a great prompt. It’s fresh, it’s happening, and everyone should try it!

DELICIOUS:

One of the sweetest parts about writing ANIMALS IN PANTS was discovering that it was just so me.

A few years back, when I first started writing in earnest, I didn’t know I was a children’s writer, or even a poet. I experimented with lots of different genres. Nothing clicked into place. People would say, “Write what you know!” To which I’d say, “NO, THANKS.” Because what did I know, exactly? I knew I’d recently 
quit acting (sad), in part due to health issues (depressing), which left me with little to focus on besides a boring day job (yuck). Why would I want to write about any of that?

And yet…

If I were to step in a time machine, zoom back to the ’80s, and tell the kid version of myself that I’d recently written a funny poetry collection called ANIMALS IN PANTS, Young Me would probably shrug and say, “Well, yeah, of course. You’re writing what you know. What else would you be doing?”

Writing’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s less about examining the here and now, and more about unearthing the person I’ve always been—that kid who grew up on Muppets and dad jokes and silly jingles and anthropomorphizing stuff. That’s what I really know, deep down. So when I write, I dig up weird little forgotten bits of myself, mix them together, and use them to pave a strange new path.

That’s what I did with this collection, and everything finally clicked into place.
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Thank you, Suzy! I am kind of in love with that "try smashing two incongruous things together" advice!

And now, I offer you this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem, after another piece by Alabama contemporary self-taught artist Trés Taylor. Don't miss my first poem after Trés' work here! You can meet Tres and Helene in Uniontown, Alabama, on May 5th when they will be planting sunflowers! (I wish I could go...sigh...but I will be celloing!)

This poem is an "Abracadabra," which uses a the rhyme scheme abacadaba (which is "Abracadabra" without the r's!) Click to read my first Abracadabra poem "Mule Ringing the Doorbell of Heaven." Thanks so much for reading!


Casting for Dreams


Before I drift
to sleep
I lift
my flute,
set my tune adrift—
Come cat,
come chimney swift!

For the path is cold-long-steep
and fellowship is the finest gift.

- Irene Latham