Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lets Get Fresh Delicious with Rebekah's Blueberries!

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Julie at The Drift Record for Roundup!

In case you missed it, I've been running a School Visit Spotlight series. Here are the posts so far:

5 Ways Words are Precious at Prince of Peace School

On Young Poets & the Culture of Listening at Vestavia Elementary Central

Growing Readers at Gresham Elementary

Also, exciting news: FRESH DELICIOUS has been selected to represent Alabama at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC!

Yay! I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this year's festivities. Thank you Donna Adcock and the Alabama Center for the Book! Mwah!

Earlier this month I visit Riverhill School in Florence, Alabama -- which, I should mention, had just finished up a Kindness Week, so I loved seeing signs all over the school about kindness! -- and there were surprise guests: Amy from Hope is the Word and her lovely daughters! This is a family that hosts regular Poetry Tea Times, and ever since LEAVING GEE'S BEND, they have also been wonderful supporters of mine.

So, you can imagine my delight when a few days ago I received a letter from young Rebekah, who is 10. She sent me a poem she wrote after reading FRESH DELICIOUS:

by Rebekah Uptain

Blueberries pop in your mouth
A jazz of flavors dancing in your mouth
Sweet or sour
Blue or purple
Some a waltz, some a tango
Swallow and reach for another.

I love this poem! From the first pop to the "jazz" through that waltz and tango all the way to reaching for another. Rebekah successful infused a poem about a still object with sound and motion. So, so lovely... and inspiring. Thank you, Rebekah!

And here is a picture of me with Rebekah and her sister Lydia. So happy to know these young readers... and their sweet mom Amy! THANK YOU!!
Rebekah, Lydia & me

Panning for Gold with Ben Sollee

Today for Spiritual Journey Thursday I have two things I'd like to share with you:

1. This post by artist/poet Stephanie Berry, about how we define success. (Yes, we can define our own success!) The quote that resonates with me: "My success is rooted in Spirit."

2. This gorgeous song by Ben Sollee. Pretty much all Ben's songs are gorgeous, but this one - oh, man, slays me. Lyrics below!

I saw God by the river 
Panning for gold 
I saw God by the river 
Weary and old

He said; 'Son,
I used to know where I put things,
I used to know'

I saw God in the forest
Teaching Tai Chi to the trees
In the wind
And bowing to the seas

He said; 'Son,
I used to know where I put things,
I used to know'

I saw God on the mountain
Tearing at the sky
I saw God on the mountain
With tears in his eyes

He said; 'Son,
I used to know where I put things,
I used to know
I could have shown you all the beauty in the world
but now I need you to show me
Yes, show me'

Isn't that our job as poets and storytellers and HUMANS, to show all the beauty of the world? Love!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

School Visit Spotlight: 5 Ways Words are Precious at Prince of Peace School

 One of the most inspiring school visits this year happened at Prince of Peace School in Hoover, Alabama.

Wow, does this school love books, and WORDS!

1. Starting in Kindergarten each child begins writing and collecting writing samples to create a writing portfolio. By 5th grade they have a fat stack of all sorts of writing! What a gift, what a record of a child's life!

2. Every year classes select an author whose books serve as inspiration for a tablescape at the annual Writers' Cafe.



3. Special adults are invited to sit at the inspired tables, share a snack and peruse the students' writings.

4. Also as part of the annual event, real working writers come in to share their stories with students. This year I was one of those lucky writers!

5. The director of curriculum Kelly Smith shared with me that when students move from elementary to middle school, they have a Harry Potter inspired event where a Sorting Hat is used to sort kids into 4 different houses, which are named after saints (It's a Catholic school.). The kids of each house pile onto a magic carpet of sorts and are pulled across the way from the elementary building to the middle school building. Very ceremonial... and inspired by the words of J.K. Rowling.

... and I haven't even told you about the art at this school! Art was EVERYWHERE. Wonderful! (I totally want to learn from this art teacher JoJo Settine!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

School Visit Spotlight: On Young Poets & the Culture of Listening at Vestavia Elementary Central

Vestavia Elementary Central is located here in Birmingham, less than 30 minutes from my home.

I love local visits because it shows the kids that poets and authors live right in their neighborhoods, and in fact, THEY can be poets and authors, too!

When I arrived at the library, I was greeted by Elizabeth Hester, whom I was so pleased to finally work with! Our paths have crossed a bunch of times, and this was my first time to visit her school. Yay!

I was also greeted by a bulletin board of student poems -- poems about birthdays and birds and hermit crabs and melons and whales and crickets... lots of great writing going on at Vestavia Central!

But the thing that struck me most about these students was the way they LISTENED. Not just to me, but to one another. When, during the writing workshop, a student read aloud his or her work, and I asked, "what stands out to you about the poem?" or "what words or images do you recall?" or "any more feedback?" there were always lots of hands, and lots of very precise comments. And, I have learned, this is something that is taught. That comes with practice. At Vestavia Elementary Central, they have created a Culture of Listening. I love it!

I also love how these librarians and teachers put on a luncheon. Behold the beauty of this spread:

How lucky was I to lunch with such thoughtful, smart educators? And YUM.

Another highlight of my visit was meeting BJ, who works in the school cafeteria, and whose mother is a quilter from Gee's Bend! I was delighted to sign a copy of LEAVING GEE'S BEND for her.

Look how quietly and diligently these young poets are working...

And here are some poems!

I love the idea of "crickets spread[ing] the rumor of sadness and change."

I love the specificity in these titles: not just "Hermit Crab"... "Hermit Crab on the Stairs.
Not just "The Dog"... "The Dog in the Lake."

This one completely stole my heart because of that "big"
on the last line all by itself!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Food + Art & Picture Books = Fun for All Ages!

Reading is Delicious!
Yesterday I started my School Visit Spotlight series... Growing Readers at Gresham Elementary. You'll be inspired by this librarian's efforts! More in the series coming this week.

But first, I've just been preparing for ASLA conference, where I will present again "Reading is Delicious: Fresh, Fun Food Programming for Kids."

Last time (and the first time ever!) I presented this program was last month at Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival in Hattiesburg, MS.

I shared all kinds of ideas for combining food with just about every other part of the curriculum, and then we had some hands-on time to play together!

We painted with asparagus paintbrushes and stamped with cut pieces of onion and bell pepper.

Behold, our work of art!

We used jeweler's loupes to examine strawberries, and by applying the Private Eye inquiry method, we came up with "bones" for poems.

A few of my favorite bones:

Mars with 1,000 eyes
quills on a porcupine
tiny bees in a red hive
Grandma's quilt from Gee's Bend.....

...Anyone else suddenly wanting to write a poem??? YES!

We made a watermelon paper/googly eye craft.

We did some blueberry math... and shared our "Best" & "Worst" about blueberries.

So much fun! And now I get to do it all over again with Alabama librarians.

I love this life!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

School Visit Spotlight: Growing Readers at Gresham Elementary School

Ludelphia love!
When Angela Moorer, librarian at Gresham Elementary contacted me about a school visit, I was thrilled and inspired. Gresham is a Title 1 Jefferson County Alabama school tucked in the heart of Vestavia. Most of the students are non-readers, so this year, in an effort to change that, Mrs. Moorer created literature circle groups. Each group got to choose a book to read together. One 5th grade group of six chose LEAVING GEE'S BEND. Mrs. Moorer had hoped to travel with these students to Gee's Bend, but she wasn't able to make that happen, so she decided to contact me instead!

Here are some pictures from our (surprise) visit:

Mrs. Moorer and the whole group, with Ludelphia.

Sharing pictures of Gee's Bend quilts.

Answering questions -- and getting answers
from kids who knew the book better than I do!

A class t-shirt and flowers to take home with me...

New wisdom for my "Wisdom of our mothers" quilt:
"Don't be a follower, be a leader."

As Mrs. Moorer was walking me out, I noticed these notes on the library computers:

.... proof that one great librarian can make all the difference in a reader's life! Thank you, Mrs. Moorer! You inspire me! And thank you, students -- I loved meeting you and I am excited for all the reading (and other!) adventures life has in store for you. xo

What a great group!

Thursday, May 19, 2016


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

And speaking of marvelous Margaret.... this week I'm thrilled to share with you some student work done by her students, who were inspired by poems from DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST.

Art and poems! What could be better?!

First, here's "Reef for All" by Madison:

Reef for All
by Madison
Sharks feast on my citizens;
my restaurant never closes.

Eels hide in my caves;
my shelter provides homes.

Sea worms play Peek-a-boo in my tubes;
my tubes allow all ages.

Fish hide in my caves;
my cradle caves are cozy for new fins.

No sea animal can resist my charm;
I am a coral reef.
Isn't that "peek-a-boo" wonderful?! So much fun!

And here is my "Tree for All" poem that inspired it:

illustration by Anna Wadham
Tree for All

Giraffes feast on my leafy crown;
my buffet never closes.

Rhinos doze beneath my broad branches;
my umbrella selters and shades.

Baboons scramble up and down my trunk;
my playground delights all ages.

Owls nest in my hidden knothole;
my cradle cozies brand-new wings.

Skinks sleep in my thick, spotted bark;
my camouflage keeps them safe.

Safari ants trail along my roots;
my roadways help build a city.

No grassland beast can resist my charms;
I am a wild bush willow tree.

- Irene Latham

Next we have "What T-Rex Knows" by Jacob:

What T-Rex Knows
by Jacob

T-Rex knows
to walk on two legs
and fight like a pro

T-Rex knows
to hunt like a beast
and eat his foe

T-Rex knows
he's strong as a 
spinning tornado

T-Rex knows
he's friends with
other dinos
66 million years ago

Oh, that spinning tornado! Yes!

And here is my poem "What Rhino Knows" :

What Rhino Knows

Rhino knows
to wait for starshine
and moonglow.

Rhino knows
to snort and paw,
puff and blow.

Rhino knows
to charge like a bull
at the rodeo.

Rhino knows 
he’s strong as
an armored buffalo.

Rhino knows
is the only way to go.

–Irene Latham

Finally, here is "Zeno Poem" by Vannisa, about the hardships of writing poetry:

Zeno Poem
by Vannisa

Finding topics to write is hard.
Something simple
like a 
because writing
just takes
Yes, indeed! Writing takes time. Thank you, Margaret and students! Your work is a gift.

Coming next week: posts featuring some of the fabulous schools I've visited this year... readers and art and words and FOOD! I'm excited to share with all of you. Meanwhile, hope you have a great weekend! Live your poem!!

Blossom First, Bee (Maybe) Later

We are not currently doing a community Spiritual Journey Thursday roundup, but I am still reserving Thursdays as a spiritual space here at Live Your Poem. If you have a post to add, please leave the link in comments, and I will add it here!

I've been thinking a lot about yesterday's reading in THE BOOK OF AWAKENING by Mark Nepo.

Here's the opening quote:

"The flower doesn't dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes."

It's the same for writing or any other artistic/spiritual pursuit:

The writer doesn't dream of the contract.
She writes and the contract comes.

At least, that's how it should be, right?

The joy is in the process. The meaning/fulfillment/enjoyment is in the writing -- not the result (if there IS a result!).

One thing we can be sure of is that our life's work is to create, to blossom. If the bee comes, great! Welcome!

And if the bee doesn't come?

We keep on blossoming, that's what. xo

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Poet as Secretary

Throwback to my "SKY" year! See poem below...
taking this picture was me being a secretary.
So this is the week I hope to catch up some! I've got no overnight travel this week, which is a relief... and the list of blog posts I have yet to write is so very long... but, the garden is calling. And the cello. And my work-in-progress....

Meanwhile, back to the post!

Today I'm excited to share with you some poetry that's meandered my way thanks to some lovely women in my life.

First, my friend Sarah at Shine Memoirs shared links to podcasts featuring interviews with poets like Mary Oliver and Marie Howe. I listened to the one with Mary Oliver on a drive back from the north Georgia mountains where I spent a lovely few days with dear ones. Really wonderful. You can many other inspiring podcasts at On Being with Krista Tippett.

Next, April Halprin Wayland shared with me a poem Alison McGhee shared with her:

Taking It Home to Jerome     - David Kirby
In Baton Rouge, there was a DJ on the soul station who was
always urging his listeners to “take it on home to Jerome.”
No one knew who Jerome was. And nobody cared. So it
didn’t matter. I was, what, ten, twelve? I didn’t have anything
to take home to anyone. Parents and teachers told us that all
we needed to do in this world were three things: be happy,
do good, and find work that fulfills you. But I also wanted
to learn that trick where you grab your left ankle in your
right hand and then jump through with your other leg.
Everything else was to come, everything about love:
the sadness of it, knowing it can’t last, that all lives must end,
all hearts are broken. Sometimes when I’m writing a poem,
I feel as though I’m operating that crusher that turns
a full-size car into a metal cube the size of a suitcase.
At other times, I’m just a secretary: the world has so much
to say, and I’m writing it down. This great tenderness.
This great tenderness, indeed! Let's celebrate the secretary. xo
Listen to the poem on Soundcloud.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Cello Diaries (On the Triumphs and Challenges of Being an Adult Student)

Yesterday I played in my first recital as a cellist.

I sat in a row of kids aged Kindergarten to Sixth Grade.

I'm 45.

I started playing the cello 16 months ago, after rejecting the violin. I *wanted* the fiddle to be my instrument, but it wasn't. I just didn't feel connected, in my heart. And when I was honest with myself, I knew I wanted to play the cello all along, but it's such a big instrument, not nearly so convenient. I mean, if you travel by plane, you have to buy the cello it's own seat!

But that cello with all its depth and melancholy (O, C string, how I adore you!) was calling to me. I couldn't ignore it. So I dumped the fiddle and got myself fixed up with a cello rental kit. I called up the cellist who taught my son to play cello many moons ago, and I started meeting with him every week.

Aside: someone I met recently described the cello's sound as "chocolate." I love that!

I learned 2 things right away when I began taking cello lessons:

1. The cello is a very physical instrument. There are adjustments to be made to shoulder and elbow and wrist. Posture is important, how you hold the cello, and then there's the hands. Who knew there was so much to learn about hands?

2. Learning to play the cello is a practice. It's a relationship, much like writing is a relationship. Nothing is ever static. You think you've got it, and then you don't. One way of doing things works for a while, then you need to make adjustments.

I've struggled mightily as a cello player.

The first big thing was my bow hold. I just couldn't do it. If I rounded my thumb, I felt like the bow was falling from my fingers. It doesn't help that I am left-handed, and bowing is done with the right hand. What helped me the most was getting a little gadget called the cellophant. This allowed me to quit worrying so much about the bow hold and get excited about being able to get a sound out of the cello! After a few months I was able to play without the gadget.

But there's more to this bow hold adventure. Read on!

back side of recital program
String crossings are another beast for me. I had a big eureka moment when I realized it was all in the elbow. If I paid attention to where my elbow was, I was a lot less likely to bump other strings. Also, whenever I practiced by plucking (not bowing), it helped me gain confidence in my pitches, leaving me more available to focus on not hitting the other strings.

It really is difficult to do different things with each hand at the same time! And, to learn everything at once. What helps me to break it down and work on just one small thing at a time (right now: remembering to move my thumb when I shift to 2nd or 3rd position).

By the time I was in about a year, I was cruising along pretty well. I was feeling much more confident. Then we got to exercise 12 in the Schroeder book, where you are supposed to hinge from the wrist (instead of moving your whole arm) when performing those slurs and string crossings. I couldn't get it. My hand was so stiff, it completely inflexible.

Which brought me and my current very patient teacher back to my bow hold. She did this exercise with me where she asked me to hold a bottled water between finger and thumb, with a tilt (neck down) and be aware of how it felt in my hand. She said this is how the bow should feel. That I should really be holding it with thumb and finger -- and allow the strings to hold the weight of the bow.

Something about this exercise caused a mental shift. I understood now! But I still couldn't make my wrist do that hinge-y thing.

I talked to my husband about it, and he said it reminded him of what it's like to be an amateur golfer. He knows he's never going to hit the ball 300 yards. But he still plays the game. And maybe I just needed to work on accepting my limitations, and just do what I could do.

So I did. And I got so much relief! I didn't have to stop playing cello. But yeah, maybe I wasn't going to perform Carnegie Hall.

BUT. Even though my teacher said, let's move on, I couldn't stop piddling with that Schroeder #12.

One day I was sitting at my cello, talking on the phone. The bow was in my hand, and I realized I WAS DOING IT. My wrist was a hinge! My arm was still! I was hitting all the right strings!

I told my father I needed to call him back, and I repeated the move over and over. I looked at it in the mirror. It was true, I really was doing it!

The next morning, the first thing I did upon waking was sit at my cello and see if I could repeat it. Did I still have the move?


I can't tell you how much conquering that has meant to my cello practice. Way more, even, than getting through today's recital.

Which I did get through just fine. "Musette" by Bach, from Suzuki cello book 2. (Video below of someone else playing it -- I had hoped for video of myself... alas. Read on!) My mind was all over the place, but I'd practiced my piece so many times that my body knew what to do.

It wasn't perfect... I could hear some pitches out of tune, I should have slowed down... but I hit every note. I was there. I didn't hyperventilate. I DID IT.

Afterwards I congratulated all the other kids, and their parents. I hugged my husband and sons for coming to watch. I didn't freak out too much when they said they didn't remember to take a picture or video of me....

And then I came home and practiced some more.


And now, I'm excited to be working with other area cellists to create Birmingham Cello Project!  Our first Meetup is next week. Can't wait!!!

Thursday, May 12, 2016


I've just spend some quality time with a beautiful book: DEAR POPE FRANCIS: The Pope Answers Questions from Children Around the World by Pope Francis.

Each spread is set up the same way: child's question and original letter (with art) on the left, Pope Francis's reply on the right.

Before I go on, it's important that you know I'm not Catholic. I'm drawn to this book not for any religious reasons, but for spiritual ones. The spiritual life is full of questions. And Pope Francis is both a religious and a spiritual leader.

There's much to love here: the children are from all over the globe. Their letters and art are presented as they were written (in their own languages) and drawn -- and I love how so often Pope Francis refers to the art in his letters. It seemed to me that he actively searched the art for clues about the child and to further refine the question being asked so that his answer could possibly address something deeper than what was written in the words.

And the questions are hard ones! About suffering and hell and sin and miracles. I found myself very nurtured by his responses to the children's often tough questions.

Here are some of my favorite responses:

On miracles:
"I've experienced many miracles. No, they're not the spectacular kind. I have never seen the dead come back to life. But I have seen many daily miracles in my life. Many."

On settling conflict in the world:
"...there is no magic wand. We have to convince everyone that the best way to win a war is not to wage one. I know that's not easy. But i'm going to try. and I ask you to try too."

On freedom:
"God created us to be free. Freedom is the greatest gift he has given us."

On finding God:
"If you love the people in your family, you will find God, and everything will be harmonious."

On making hard choices:
"Letting go of people is really very difficult for me. I love to trust people. And that's true for those I work with and everyone I'm responsible for. So I feel really bad if I have to send someone away. But at times I have to do it, you know, for the good of the person. Still, it's difficult for me to accept."

On suffering:
"Suffering is to be lived with hope. We are not prisoners of suffering. It is just as you have expressed in your drawing: with the sun, the flowers, the trees, and your smile as you fly in the air playing ball. If we forgive one another, we will go to our future home, which will be very beautiful because it will be transfigured - completely transformed -by the presence of God.

On how God hears us:
"Yes, he listens to us, but not with ears. God can hear us even if words don't come out of our mouths. God listens to the heart."

On God's love:
"We are all chosen by the love of Jesus. But each of us is chosen in a personal way - we are not all chosen in a single common way. Jesus' love makes us feel chosen. But if you feel shut out of this love, then you have to face up to it and ask yourself why you feel that way. Jesus never excludes anyone from his heart."

On going to hell:
"Once, a woman went to a holy priest, whose name was John Maria Vianney. He was the pastor of the parish in Ars, in France. The woman began to cry, because her husband had committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. She was desperate because she thought that her husband had certainly ended up in hell. But Father John Maria, who was a saint, said to her, "Look between the bridge and the river, there is the mercy of God."

Look between the bridge and the river.