Monday, October 31, 2016

On Memorials & Why They're Important

A few days ago I visited the The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. While there I searched for and found a memorial brick my father purchased for his father -- my Granddaddy Dykes.
MSG Newton E Dykes, 819th Tank DST BTN "We Love You Dad"

Each section is marked to help you find "your" brick.

What surprised me how emotional the experience was for me. I cried when I saw it -- especially those words "We love you Dad." WE. Even though  my father was an only child, and he's the one who purchased the brick. We. My father knew the memorial wasn't just for one person, it was for all of us, for everyone, even those who never knew my grandfather. I don't know, it just touched me something fierce.

And it's got me thinking about how important it is to remember the people we love who have died. How these memorials, however permanent or semi-permanent, connect us to one another as a community, as a species. For two blocks along Magazine Street in front of the museum there are hundreds and hundreds of bricks, just like my grandfather's, but with different names. Other people come and find "their" bricks just like I did. We all share the same grief, the same love.

Which makes me especially grateful when I think about my father's bench in front of Bismarck Cancer Center in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was installed shortly after his death this past June. I haven't seen it yet in person, but I will. I will go sit on it, and I will remember. And yes, I will probably cry. And then I will be connected to everyone who has or ever will sit on that bench bearing my father's name.

"Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up."
In Honor of Ken Dykes
Bismarck Cancer Center Executive Director

Beautiful, isn't it?

Another thing that surprised me: how much I loved "in honor of" instead of "in memory of." Honor. Now that is a lovely lovely thing. My father would have loved it. I'm so grateful to Bismarck Cancer Center, especially new executive director Amy Gross, for making it happen!

More on my trip, including the Louisiana Book Festival later this week. And: are you a subscriber to my email newsletter? New edition coming later this week that will include a giveaway just for subscribers... sign up here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rain Poems for the Drought in Alabama

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit sweet Linda at TeacherDance for Roundup. I'm excited because tomorrow I will be at Louisiana Book Festival presenting a book talk on FRESH DELICIOUS. Yay!

Here in Alabama we're in a stage 3 drought... so, in an effort to coax some rain this way I've been reading rain poems! Lucky me, I was gifted a sweet little book of such poems (thank you, Ramona!) called ONE BIG RAIN: Poems for Rainy Days compiled by Rita Gray, illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke .

Hope you enjoy the poems. Thank you for reading! And don't forget to enter the giveaway for GO SOUTH TO FREEDOM by Frye Gaillard! Deadline midnight Oct. 31!

November Rain
- Maud E. Uschold

This autumn rainfall
Is no shower
that freshens grass
And brings the flower.

This rain is long
And cold and gray,
Yet sleeping roots
Are fed this way.

Trees and bushes,
Nearly bare
Of leaves, now chains
Of raindrops wear

Along each twig.
Some clear beads fall.
A tree could never
Hold them all.

(Translated from the Norwegian by Sarah J. Hails)
- Sigbjorn Obstfelder

One is one, and two is two -
we sing in huddles,
we hop in puddles.
Plip, plop,
we drip on roof top,
trip, trop,
the rain will not stop.
Rain, rain, rain, rain,
bucketing rain,
chucketing rain,
rain, rain, rain, rain,
wonderfully raw,
wet to the core!
One is one, and two is two-
we sing in huddles,
we hop in puddles.
plip, plop,
we drip on roof top,
trip, trop,
the rain will not stop.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Go South to Freedom by Frye Gaillard #Giveaway

Today I'd like to share with you a book I was asked to blurb: Go South to Freedom by Fry Gaillard, illus. by Anne Kent Rush. It was released in September by NewSouth Books, an Alabama publisher I'm thrilled to be working with for the paperback edition of Leaving Gee's Bend, coming spring 2017. (!) Leaving Gee's Bend was first released by Putnam/Penguin in 2010, so the paperback has been a long time coming! I'm excited.

Meanwhile, Go South to Freedom earned a starred review from Kirkus! And here's my blurb:

"Go South to Freedom is a campfire story for all ages, filled with surprise and adventure, truth and sadness, and ultimately hope. Readers experience the great pull of freedom in this account of the courageous efforts of the African and other enslaved people to make their lives better. Inspiring and entertaining."

Things I like about this book:

1. It's based on a true story.
2. Readers learn something about runaway slave communities that existed in Florida as well as the community of free blacks in Mobile, Alabama.
3. The narrative in written in the tradition of oral storytelling.
4. The story is full of adventure and danger.
5. It reaffirms the human spirit and illuminates the strength and determination of enslaved people to be free.

I hope you will check it out! Thanks to NewSouth, I am able to offer a copy for giveaway! To enter, simply leave a comment below between now and 11:59 pm October 31. Then Maggie the (magical, disappearing) cat will select a winner -- and I will contact that person to get an address. Good luck!

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Poem with Rough Clothes (by Ada Limón)

Today I am happy to share with you a poem from National Book Award Finalist BRIGHT DEAD THINGS (Milkweed) by Ada Limón.

I love the whole poem, but those last lines really get me. They speak to me of this desire I have for meaning and connection, the desire to make an impact.

As much as I seek comfort, and also want to provide it -- I also want discomfort. I want to experience things that make me twitchy and uncomfortable, things that frighten me and things that I haven't yet (and maybe never will) figure out. It's in "rough clothes" that we deepen and broaden the experience of living and loving....

and those are just a few of my thoughts when reading this poem. :) What are YOUR thoughts?

The Noisiness of Sleep
by Ada Limón

Careful of what I carry
in my head and in my hollow,

I've been a long time worried
about grasping infinity

and coaxing some calm
out of the softest part

of the pins and needles of me.
I'd like to take a nap.

But not a nap that's eternal,
a nap where you wake up

having dreamt of falling, but
you've only fallen into

an ease so unknown to you
it looks like a new country.

Let me slip into a life less messy.
Let me slip into your sleeve.

Be very brave about my
trespass, the plan is simple --

the plan is the clock tower
and the lost crow. It'll be rich.

We'll live forever. Every moon
will be a moon of surrender

and lemon seeds. You there,
standing up in the crowd,

I'm not proud. The stove
can't boast of the meal.

All this to say -- consider this,
with your combination of firefly

and train whistle, consider this,
with your maze and steel,

I want to be the rough clothes
you can't sleep in.

Friday, October 21, 2016

MOO by Sharon Creech

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

I've just finished MOO by Sharon Creech. I thought of my mother the entire time I was reading it -- because my mom was once a big-time prize-winning 4-H girl who, in addition to competing in the areas of sewing and public speaking, showed dairy and beef cows. Her favorite was a Jersey cow named Penny, who won her a GRAND CHAMPION prize. Here's a picture:

Penny & Mama (before she was a mama!)

And here's an excerpt from the book:


Animals need primping for the fair:
     pedicures (hoof-i-cures?)

I am not kidding!

Zep declared Beauty Day for Zora and
     We lathered
     we scrubbed
     we rinsed
     we dried them with a blow-dryer.

I am not kidding!

     We clipped
     we combed
     we brushed.
     We cleaned and polished hooves.
You'll have to do it all again at the fair,
Zep said.
This is just round one: preparation.

It made us laugh.
     Beauty Day for the heifers!
They looked SO good when we were done!

And then Zora tromped through
a mud puddle
and lay down
and said

- Sharon Creech
This poem also reminds me of all the ways  my sister and I would primp our ponies. We painted their hooves and dyed their manes and tails... we also braided and brushed and occasionally broke out the hair dryer. Fun!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Poem of Delight

As some readers may remember, my 2016 One Little Word is DELIGHT. So, imagine my delight when I stumbled across this poem in a little book called Gratitude Prayers, selected by June Cotner:

A Poem of Delight
by Dan Vera

What are the chemical properties of delight?

What physical law rules delight?

In which commandment did the Hebrew God command delight?

Does delight ever go on sale?

Does delight ever go on vacation?

What is the temperature of delight?

Who came first: the delighted chicken or the delighted egg?

What are the elemental principles of delight?

If I dropped delight from the Empire State Building at exactly the same time you dropped delight from the second story window of your apartment, which delight would land first?

If day follows night, does this mean delight follows delight?

With a billion sparkling beings illuminating the sky, is midnight the time of shimmering delight?

And if I feel delight at the twinkling of stars that long burned out in the blue ovens of night, what is the half-life of delight?

An east-bound train from Omaha to Denver is traveling at 110 miles an hour and a west-bound train from Denver to Omaha is traveling at 95 miles an hour. They both leave their respective stations at the same time and the distance between Denver and Omaha is 537 miles. How much time will it take the train conductors to feel delight at their meeting?

Is desperation jealous of delight?

Do the bells at the top of the hill ring with anything but delight?

I was walking through the aisles of the grocery store when I stumbled upon a pyramid display of delight. I placed one in my basket and proceeded to the checkout line. But when the cashier tried to scan it, he couldn't find the universal price code for delight.

                                  "Price check on Aisle 3!"

Love is just the space between our danger and delight.

Isn't that delightful? And isn't that last line wonderful? Suddenly I am speaking in questions. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Maggie the Magical Disappearing Cat

Last week our indoor-only cat Maggie disappeared.

Paul searched everywhere -- high, low, outside, inside.

What made it so strange is that Maggie is not one of these dash-out-the-door cats. Even when a door is open, she wants only to sit there and WATCH. She has some very reliable habits. When she does hide, it's usually under our bed.

Not this time.

Paul posted signs in the neighborhood, just in case.

No calls. No Maggie. Paul was heartbroken.

And then, three days later... Maggie! She appeared in our basement. Our basement, where Paul has an office, and Andrew has a room, and we park our cars. We'd been in and out, and she'd been hiding all that time!

A friend of mine said she might have been sick, or working to clear a hairball. She must have needed to be alone.

We're so happy she's back! Especially Paul -- Maggie is his cat. And as much as we go into relationships with pets knowing that they will end sooner than we'd like them to, we're really glad we've got more time with her. She's special.

So if you have a pet(s), love 'em extra-hard today, for us, and for Maggie!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Scarecrow's Wish" for Poetry Friday Roundup!

Mrs. Frizzle!
Hello, children's poets and poetry lovers! A big Happy Poetry Friday to you! Roundup is HERE!!

I am away from my desk yet again this week -- helping my mom through a surgery. O, October, how you weary me! So I thought I would share with you as I always do pictures from our local elementary school's scarecrow show. (Here's a link to 2015 and 2014.) And I thought I'd also share a scarecrow poem by Valerie Worth. Sounds good, right?

Well. As it turns out, I only imagined that scarecrow poem by Valerie Worth! I've shared a pumpkin one and a skeleton one, but no scarecrow. Because it doesn't exist. So I decided to write one myself.

Scarecrow's Wish

By summer's end
I'm crook-necked,

I've lost an eye,
and an arm,
and my hat dangles
below my brow.

I saved the grain
from so many beaks and teeth,
and still my work
goes on –

I'll guard this field
until winter comes,
and then, Wind,
won't you please
                         oh so gently
                                      lay me down?

- Irene Latham

This poem started out with the title "Scarecrow," and then I changed it to "Scarecrow's Lament," then "Scarecrow's Request," and finally "Scarecrow's Wish."

Titling is a funny thing. I think of it's an important tool for the poet -- great for creating suspense, intrigue, or simply placing a poem so you don't have to use the first lines to do that.

I like the idea of Scarecrow having a wish, and I like the way those words sound and look together (better than "request"!). I really love "lament," but the poem really turned into something different at the end, so it didn't seem to fit anymore. Plain ol' "Scarecrow" is what Valerie Worth would do... and one can certainly argue for the simple title! What decisions we poets are faced with... Poets, how do you approach titles? Do share in comments!

The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly!
For a related image, please see the cartoon called "The Scarecrow's Lament" in The New Yorker. And here is some original music, also with the title "The Scarecrow's Lament."

...and finally....
And now, if you please, leave your link below! Thank you!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Worldbuilding Writing Intensive with Bruce Coville

I love this title!
Last week it was my good fortune to attend a Writing Intensive with Bruce Coville, author of over 100 books -- most (all?) of them fantasy or sci-fi. And since I've just finished the latest draft of this little fantasy middle grade novel that's been haunting me for oh about SIX years now.... well, I was a happy sponge!

Here are some things I learned again or for the first time:

Fantasy as a genre gives readers a way to expand their lives through dreams and imagination and the re-enchantment of the world.

If it has a machine in it, it's probably science fiction (rather than fantasy).

The rule of 3 + 1: 3 little pigs & the big bad wolf. (The 4th thing should be the "topper" or the turn, i.e. "he'd been poked, punched, called names, and hit in the face with a cupcake")

"Window dressing" is the author's chance to paint a magical picture inside the imaginary world.

Bruce took us step by step through
this book's opening... wonderful!
Use humor! Quirks and funny speech patterns are good, esp. for sidekicks.

Make maps. (this is great for ANY genre!)

What lifts the craft to art is the sense of mystery.

Embrace the unfinished chord. (leave the reader with something to think about.)

Bruce left ME with lots to think about! Plus he had some nice things to say about my wip, which, as all writers know, is why we go to conferences: to be encouraged, to re-light our fires, to learn.

Thanks, Bruce! Happy to know you!!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Talking Poetry for Children at Georgia COMO

This is the art that happened to be hanging outside
my presentation room at The Classic Center
in Athens, GA. Pretty fitting, right?
Last week I was privileged to present programs at Georgia COMO conference on my nature poetry books DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA as well as on food library programming related to FRESH DELICIOUS.

As I told the librarians, one of my goals for 2016 was to reach out to Georgia teachers and librarians, as I was born in Covington, Georgia and have always enjoyed thinking of myself as a Georgia "peach." And what I discovered (not a surprise) was that Georgia librarians are just as peachy as they can be! Thanks so much to those who attended for your enthusiasm for poetry and field notebooks in the first session, and for veggie-art in the second session! Here are some pictures taken by Paul who was my helper for the day:

Painting with asparagus... does it get any better?!

Veggie art! (I esp. love that flowered vine on the right.)

Watermelon make-n-take craft!

Fun with jewelers' loupes!

A couple of things I learned:

One way to handle potential food allergies when doing food programming is to post outside the door a list of all the foods included in the program so that parents can decide whether to bring their kids in or not.

Also, one of my programming suggestions is built around the book Mama Panya's Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, illustrated by Julia Cairns. I suggest having a Pancake party and including all sorts of other "pancakes" to bring a multicultural slant, like French crepes and Mexican tortillas and Indian flatbread. One of the librarians in attendance said she has used the book Will It Waffle? to host a Waffle (tasting) Party. FUN!!

Great job, librarians! I look forward to creating more art and poetry with you in the future!

Also: if you're ever in Athens, GA for breakfast or lunch, check out the restaurant Mama's Boy. So good!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Helo Mudda, Hello Fadduh... about Poetry Camp!

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday, children's poets! Be sure to visit lovely Violet (whom I got to meet at Poetry Camp. Yay!!!) at Violet Nesdoly for Roundup.

This is my third and final post about my trip to the Seattle area. Here are links to posts chronicling my bookish adventures in Seattle and Mercer Island.

But first: hello to new friends I met during my presentations this week at Georgia COMO! Wow, Georgia is full of enthusiastic librarians. (More on this next week.) Yay!

And hello all my SCBWI Southern Breeze friends -- excited to be with you today
and tomorrow for our annual WIK (Writing and Illustrating for Kids) conference. I'll be launching my two 2016 books tomorrow morning, one of which, WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA was just named winner of the Silver Moonbeam Children's Book Award for Poetry! Go, penguins, go!!

Yes, I'm tired. And no, my schedule isn't always like this. October and April and March tend to be my busiest months for travel.

And now, the reason for last week's trip to Seattle, and for this post: Poetry Camp!

Poetry Camp was a partnership between the good folks Sylvia Tag and Nancy Johnson at WWU and Pomelo Books, aka Janet Wong & Sylvia Vardell! SO much planning went into this event. SO MUCH. And it showed. The whole thing was just kind of magical. Yes, it was like drinking from a firehose (perfect metaphor, Doraine!), but it was also such a rich and nourishing time. I loved meeting so many Poetry Friday poets... and hearing poets read their own work! Joy joy joy!

Howdy Campers! (l-r) Doraine Bennett, April Halprin Wayland,
Jeannine Atkins, Robyn Hood Black, Irene Latham

I learned stuff, too, like some new ways to approach writing workshops with middle schoolers (presented by Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger). And what great discussions: emotion vs. intellect in poems? Lots to talk about, and how wonderful to make new friends.

Shout-out to Robyn Hood Black whose poetry makerspace workshop was divine! Here is my creation:


the boy 
who called 
deep water
brought up
broken colors

- Irene Latham

me & Liz
And to Liz Steinglass who was the best session partner never. (Want a copy of our handout on Metaphor & Simile? Email me: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com.) And to Carol-Ann Hoyte and Cynthia Grady and Michelle Schaub, who has a farmers' market poetry book coming next year! And to Nancy Bo Flood and Carmen T Bernier-Grand and to everyone everyone... yes, it was THAT kind of camp. :)

There came a point on Saturday when I had reached my limit -- I'm an introvert, and I wasn't feeling well, and I had been traveling all week... and thank God for Ramona who said, yes, I can take you back to Seattle. Yes, I will get you to your already-payed-for airport hotel. Yes, we can stop at the drugstore. And hey, have you ever tried Starbucks' SHORT (who knew then even had a "SHORT?") caramel apple cider? Well, I have now! Thank you again and again, Ramona! Mwah!

Sylvia Vardell posted lots of great photos on her Facebook page.

And now, for a poem from the newly released YOU JUST WAIT: A Poetry Friday Power Book, brought to you by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. This book is a writers' notebook and a story and a little bit of everything! One of the poems I love appears midway through the book.

Black Ice
by Joseph Bruchac

The whirl of winter wind
slicked the road surface
black and shiny as an otter's back.

The turn of the season's wheel
caught tire treads and heart
at the same time-stopped moment.

I spun, less like a top
than a whirligig beetle,
caromed into the kiss
of guardrail against bumper
rebounded and stopped
just at the edge.

Then the only breath
left held in my chest
was released at last
to spread its wings,
a bird of thanks.

Yes! "A bird of thanks." Sending a whole flock out to the Poetry Friday community today!! I'm so thrilled to know all of you. See you at the next Poetry Camp! xo

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

School Visit: Islander Middle School (Mercer Island, WA)

Ramona with fall flowers!
Life as a children's poet can take one to unexpected places... like Seattle, for instance! Please see my previous post about my first day's adventures. Today's post will be devoted to my time with book-loving, oh-so-generous Ramona who lives on Mercer Island. Read Ramona's post about it at her blog Pleasures from the Page.

First of all, Mercer Island actually IS an island. You cross a bridge over Lake Washington to get there. And it just feels different than Seattle. Small, quaint. Like everyone knows everyone. And one thing I learned: everyone really does know Ramona. Because She. Is. Awesome.

Our first visitors at the Meet-n-Greet.
Thank you for coming!
The first place Ramona took me was to Island Books. This little indie bookstore has that warm, homey feel, and the children's department was awash in titles on my TBR list. We picked up copies of FRESH DELICIOUS and DON'T FEED THE BOY to take to a little meet-n-greet Ramona set up. And I do mean Ramona set it up: home-baked goods, check! Bottled water, check! Flowers from Pike Place Market, check!

...a table runner and everything!

We set up at Islander Middle School library, and I was delighted as a few folks meandered in to talk books and poetry and kids and grandkids. What fun. And Ramona's toffee bars? Delish.

Mercer Island sunset. Aaahhh....
That evening Ramona and I chased a sunset by popping in at a few of Mercer Island's "pocket" parks. (Ramona does this all the time.) We shared a lovely meal and pictures, so many pictures! I felt right at home.

The next morning we headed to Islander Middle School for two assemblies with 6th graders and a visit with Ramona's book club.

Islander Middle School is BRAND NEW. In fact, I got to be the guinea pig for the A/V equipment in the gym! Thanks to a great tech crew (hi, Keith!), everything went smoothly. Students and teachers were an attentive audience, and asked great questions about my adventures in writing. Here is a link to some of the student responses about the visit (on Padlet) here and here.

But the best part was talking with about 20 students who make up the book club Ramona runs (did I mention Ramona is RETIRED? Yep. She's one of those passionate educators who cannot stop!). Many of them had read my books, so they were able to ask more in-depth questions. We discussed things about being a writer, like, what to do when you want to give up; how to keep going; how to FINISH a story. These kids are thoughtful readers and eager learners -- my favorite kind of people to be around.

Many thanks to Ramona especially, and all the amazing teachers and staff (Patty, especially), and co-principals MaryJo Budzius & Aaron Miller. I loved meeting so many enthusiastic educators. What a great place to learn!

I hated to say goodbye to Ramona. I wanted to pack her in my suitcase and take her home with me. (I do live closer to new grandson Teddy, after all!) I was thrilled when our paths crossed again at Poetry Camp... where she kind of saved my life. And I will save THAT story for my next post!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Seattle is for Poetry & Art & Books & FRIENDS

How to tell you about my week last week? Well, since this NEW week is already up and running with me off to Georgia COMO mid-week and our annual SCBWI Southern Breeze conference this weekend -- where I will be attending an Intensive with Bruce Coville.... I've decided to do some short posts about each part of my trip.

First up, Seattle with Sarah, who, among so many other things, keeps a blog called Shine Memoirs!
Sarah with pink-booted big-girl Georgia!

I met Sarah online when she contacted me with a request for a broadside of my poem "Black Shawl Remembers Crazy Horse." She saw it hanging at the Crazy Horse Memorial, and she wanted one for herself!

1. She saw my poem!
2. She like my poem!
3. She actually contacted me to tell me! (I totally want to be more like Sarah!)

Anyhow, years later... I come to Seattle, and Sarah is the lovely poet/mom/Antarctic explorer who picks me up!

Sarah and I shared a lunch under sunny (!) Seattle skies, then she shared her art-n-poetry filled home with me. I got to meet her gorgeous family! Eat home-grilled salmon with her! Talk poetry with her!

Sarah collects broadsides!

sweet Georgia

lego-loving Xavier (who reminded me SO MUCH
of my boys when they were small...)

picture book display wall! (Christian,
come to Alabama and build one for me! Please?)

And, we went to a Elliott Bay Books for a nonfiction book proposal class. Sarah was all like, we can skip it, but little did she know I am working on a memoir and I NEED that class! (I'm taking it online for the next five weeks!) Talk about serendipity.

After a lovely night's sleep, Sarah showed me the Olympic Sculpture Park where, it turns out, she first met her husband. Sweet! And then we went to Pike Place Market, which I had only seen on tv, so that was pretty awesome.

So. Much. Seafood.

Those berries!

Rocky Pacific shores...
so sad the rock I brought home with the volcano-shaped barnacle
no longer has the volcano-shaped barnacle. :(

I spy the Space Needle....

Sculptures are great for hide-n-seek.

The Eagle.

And then... we had lunch with Ramona, who whisked me away to Mercer Island!

Read about that part of my week... next post! Thank you, Sarah, whom I am so honored to know and call my friend. xo