Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Poem for Johnny Cash's Birthday

I share a birthday with Johnny Cash. And Buffalo Bill. Recently I read FOREVER WORDS: The Unknown Poems by Johnny Cash. I especially loved the handwritten bits included.

Here's the poem/song I'd like to share with you today. Happy birthday, Johnny! And Buffalo Bill! And me! :) We will be celebrating tonight with a La La Land themed Oscar-viewing party! :)

Let's Put it To Music
by Johnny Cash (1960s)

How do you feel about me
Now that you've learned to know me?
Why don't we both admit
That something is happening
And we would feel better if
We'd just tell each other
No need to keep it to ourselves
Let's put it to music
Let's put it to music
Let's sing about it
Laugh about it
Clap our hands
And shout about it
Let the whole world hear it
In a sweet, sweet melody
Let's put it to music, you and me

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poems for Peace / Comfort Food Poems

Peace Postcards!
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Karen Edmisten for Roundup. (While Karen is expecting snow, we've been enjoying super-warm weather! 77 degrees -- and the azaleas and tulip trees are in bloom!) I am posting early because I will be away from my desk tomorrow.

All this month I've been participating in the World Peace Poetry Postcard Project. That means I've been writing a poem a day and also receiving peace-full postcards. What a great project! Many thanks to Carla Shafer for organizing us. It's been fun and inspiring.
While I am not able to share the poems I've received without the senders' permission, I did want to share a few that I've written.... all these happen to be on the theme of comfort food. :)

Peace is a Sweet Potato Pie

creamy sunshine

scented with
a pinch of nutmeg
and allspice

it comes tucked
in a buttery,
flaky crust

to rest warm
and pillowy
on your tongue

it tastes
like gratitude


- Irene Latham
(This poem was original titled "Peace is a Pumpkin Pie," after a photo, and I was thinking Thanksgiving, which explains the end... but then I realized the internal rhyme of "sweet" and "peace," and so I dumped the pumpkin for sweet potato!)

Peace in a Coffee Cup

Warm brown universe
frothed and creamed –
Welcome, it says.
Anything can happen,
anything can be!

- Irene Latham
(I'm actually a tea drinker, and really need to write a "Peace in a Tea Cup" poem... but I was working off a picture prompt.)

Like Peace for Chocolate

If only it came
with a creamy
center –

I'd take a bite
and you'd take a bite

and for an instant
all our struggles
and opinions,

our this-is-me-this-is-you

would turn dark,

and then even that
would disappear

leaving our mouths
and thick with

- Irene Latham
(Someone asked me recently about my chocolate habit, so I'll share it here. I eat chocolate every day. I love those little Dove chocolates with the messages. My Valentine always gives me Godiva chocolates for Valentine's Day. I'll eat any sort, but if I was on a deserted island, just a nice piece of plain dark chocolate would be a dream! I'm also fond lately of Trader Joe's "no sugar added" dark chocolate bars. This doesn't mean "no sugar." It means exactly what it says: no sugar ADDED. Somehow this makes me feel better about eating it!)

What comfort food would you compare peace to?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Monday: MOONLIGHT

For our last movie before next weekend's Oscar's ceremony, we ventured forth to the only theater (and the only showing that day) of MOONLIGHT -- a sure sign of a movie on it's way out of theaters. (Actually I guess they may have just brought it back due to Oscar noms, because you can already stream it on Amazon.)

Wow, did this movie surprise me! Yes, I'd heard the Oscar buzz. It's earned 8 nominations! And my friend Charles told me how much he'd enjoyed it... I guess when I heard the "coming of age black gay boy in Miami" logline, I just thought I knew what the story would be. And it WAS that story... but it was also more. I wasn't expecting to be so powerfully drawn into these characters and the Miami setting, with its beautiful beaches pressed up against its drug holes.

From a purely visual perspective, there are several really stunning (creative!) moments in the film... and several really emotional-for-me ones as well. I ached for Chiron and appreciated his loneliness and vulnerability and anger at every age. It kind of made me ache for all boys -- the posturing, the competitiveness, the near-constant tests of strength and manhood. I think it's tough to be a boy (gay or straight) in this world... having raised 3 of them, I know it's tough. I wouldn't want to be one; it's hard enough being their mother.

The movie is beautifully acted all around, and while it is not my pick for Best Picture, I definitely see why it was nominated. Go see for yourself! And maybe then watch BOYHOOD ? Lots to learn in both those movies about the experience of growing up boy.

And... speaking of boys... and children... and what marvels we all are... you might like my post that includes music and a great Pablo Casals quote over at Birmingham Cello Project!

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Tree is Older than You Are

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone (the poetry postcard queen!) at Check it Out for Roundup.

First, some congratulations are in order:
let's send up some balloons for Laura Shovan whose THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY won the Cybils Award for Poetry!! What a wonderful choice! And the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award goes to... SOMOS COM LAS NUBES/WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS by Jorge Argueta, illus. by Alfonso Ruano (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press).  Here's a link to my earlier post on this book. Yay for happy poetry news!

And now, thanks to my sweet friend Sarah at Shine Memoirs, I've been reading THE TREE IS OLDER THAN YOU ARE: A Bilingual Gathering of Poems and Stories from Mexico with Paintings by Mexican Artists selected by Naomi Shihab Nye.

What a gorgeous book! I am in love with several of these poems and the artwork, too. One poet in particular, Homero Aridjis, caught my heart, so I have ordered one of his solo poetry books. More on this soon! I also discovered his daughter Chloe Aridjis is a novelist. Oh how the TBR stack grows! Meanwhile, please enjoy these selections.

2 of my baby spoons (recently discovered!)
Noche en la cocina

De su vaina salen los chicharos
rapidas sombras vedes
junto a una chuchara sola

- Homero Aridjis

Night in the Kitchen

Peas come out of their pods
quick green shadows
by a single spoon

(translated by Eliot Weinberger)

Gala and Granny Smith
Sitting on an Orange Plate
(photo by me!)
La manzana

Sabe a luz, a luz fria,
si, la manzana.
Que amanecida fruta
tan de manana!

- Jose Gorostoza

The Apple

Yes, the apple tastes of light,
cold light.
That's it, the apple!
What a lively fruit
so much like morning!

(translated by Joan Darby Norris and Judith Infante)

Fox Sparrow, courtesy of Bird Watcher's Digest
Si el gorrion perdiera sus alas

Si el gorrion perdiera sus alas
la casa su techo
y la mesa sus patas

si el aguila en la altura
y la mujer en la plaza
de pronto se deschicieran

si la ciudad con sus torres
y el volcan con sus hoyos
cayeran en un pozo

si los cominos
si los gatos si los ojos
perdieran para siempre el camino

si la Terra se precipitara
en u espacio negro

si no hubiera mas cuerpos
si no hubiera mas luz

el canot seguiria

- Homero Aridjis

Should the Sparrow Lose Its Wings

Should the sparrow lose its wings
the house its roof
and the table its legs

should the eagle in the skies
and the woman in the market
crumple into bits

should the city with its towers
and the volcano with its craters
fall into a well

should the roads
should the cats should the eyes
lose their way for always

should the Earth launch itself
into a black hole

should there be no more bodies
should there be no more light

the song would still sing

(translated by Martha Black Jordan)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Everyone Matters.

Last year, after I fell in love with Newbery Honor-Award winning THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, I set about to read everything else by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley -- who, incidentally is my Tennessee neighbor! -- which led me to her marvelous book JEFFERSON'S SONS: A Founding Father's Secret Sons.

I love this book. It features the stories of Beverly, Harriet, Maddy, and Eston -- whose father was Thomas Jefferson and mother was Sally Hemings. It's rich, heartfelt historical fiction full of truth and beauty and honesty. And how wise is this Sally?! Love her. And lucky me, at NCTE, I got to meet Kim and tell her in person how much I enjoyed the book. (see pic below)

Here are a few favorite passages from the book.

"A lot of things are true," said Mama, "but that doesn't mean we say them out loud."

"You matter, "mama repeated. "not because of whose son you are. Because of who you are. You're as important as every other human being that ever was or ever will be. Everyone matters. What that girl thinks of you, how she treats you, can't change the fine person that you are."

Mama took Beverly's hands. "Listen. Neither part of you is better not the black part or the white part. They're both what you are. But right now the white people make the laws in this country. They make the rules. It's easier to live like a white person here."

And here's me and Kim. (Good news: Kim says we'll soon get a sequel to THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE! It's coming in October and is titled THE WAR I FINALLY WON.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"The Ostrich in Love" by Arnold Lobel

Each year forValentine's Day, I like to share this favorite love story, which appears in the 1981 Caldecott Award-winning FABLES by Arnold Lobel. Enjoy! (And happy hearts-n-flowers... hug the ones you love! Thanks to my sweetheart, I'll be here savoring Godiva chocolates... mmmmmmmmmm)

The Ostrich in Love

On Sunday the Ostrich saw a young lady walking in the park. He fell in love with her at once. He followed behind her at a distance, putting his feet in the very places where she had stepped.

On Monday the Ostrich gathered violets as a gift to his beloved. He was too shy to give them to her. He left them at her door and ran away, but there was a great joy in his heart.

On Tuesday the Ostrich composed a song for his beloved. He sang it over and over. He thought it was the most beautiful music he had ever heard.

On Wednesday the Ostrich watched his beloved dining in a restaurant. He forgot to order supper for himself. He was too happy to be hungry.

On Thursday the Ostrich wrote a poem to his beloved. It was the first poem he had ever written, but he did not have the courage to read it to her.

On Friday the Ostrich bought a new suit of clothes. He fluffed his feathers, feeling fine and handsome. He hoped that his beloved might notice.

On Saturday the Ostrich dreamed that be was waltzing with his beloved in a great ballroom. He held her tightly as they whirled around and around to the music. He awoke feeling wonderfully alive.

On Sunday the Ostrich returned to the park. When he saw the young lady walking there, his heart fluttered wildly, but be said to himself, "Alas, it seems that I am much too shy for love. Perhaps another time will come. Yet, surely, this has been a week well spent."

Love can be its own reward

Monday, February 13, 2017

Movie Monday: LION

In our attempt to see as many Oscar-nominated films before the ceremony Feb. 25, we braved the crowds (near 70-degree weather brought everyone out and about, it seemed!) to see LION.

It's the story of Saroo, who gets lost from his family in 1980's India. Much of the film documents his bond with his brother, and then his terrible journey, which ends in him being adopted by a loving couple (mum is played by Nicole Kidman) on the island of Tasmania in Australia.... and then we fast-forward to Saroo as an adult (Dev Patel) becoming obsessed with finding his birth family.

It's such an emotional journey, and so vital, to know where one comes from... and you get that in this film. You also get beautiful cinematography and music.

I was especially touched by the actual footage of the real Saroo and his adoptive mother meeting his birthmother. Also, we find out at the very end how the movie gets its title.

Nope, I'm not going to tell you. Go see the movie!

Next up (I hope!): Moonlight

Friday, February 10, 2017

More Myra Cohn Livingston Poems

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Katie at The Logonauts for Roundup. While you're there, scroll back to Katie's amazing post for teaching elementary students about stereotypes. I can't wait to try this with students!

Here at Live Your Poem it's been an up-n-down week. I returned from glorious time with my mother and sister, and then skidded on a icy patch of grief for my father. As I was moving through that, I got the disappointing news that a project I'm attached to needs a MAJOR overhaul... and as I was moving through that, I found out a separate project isn't as dead as I thought it was (yay!)... also, I was invited to write a poem for a publication on an interesting and inspiring topic, so... good and not-so-good. Such is life!

Meanwhile I'm continuing my study of Myra Cohn Livingston. Read my post on her book of writing exercises I AM WRITING A POEM ABOUT... here. This week I am excited to share with you A SONG I SANG TO YOU: A Selection of Poems by Myra Cohn Livingston, Illustrated by Margot Tomes. It was published in 1984 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

What strikes me is how simple these poems are. Very easy on the ears and tongue. Really nice rhythms. And lots of indentation! There is nothing particularly earth-shattering about these poems, no surprising analogies or images. But there is a sweetness to these lines, an innocence... they are like comfort food! I think Myra was very good at writing from that child-place inside her heart.

Here are some of my favorites from the book. Enjoy!

 For a Bird

I found him lying near the tree; I folded up his wings.
     Oh, little bird,
     You never heard
     The song the summer sings.

I wrapped him in a shirt I wore in winter; it was blue.
     Oh, little bird,
     You never heard
     The song I sang to you.


Thank you for the sun,
          the sky,
     for all the things that like to fly,
          the shining rain that turns grass green,
          the earth we know --
          the world unseen--
     for stars and night, and once again
          the every-morning sun. Amen.

Tomato Time

On a summer vine, and low,
The fat tomatoes burst and grow;

A green, a pink, a yellow head
Will soon be warm and shiny red;

And on a morning, hot with sun,
I'll find and pick a ripened one.

Warm juice and seed beneath the skin --
I'll shut my eyes when I bite in.

I Don't Know Why

I don't know why
          the sky is blue
          or why the raindrops
          splatter through

          or why the grass
          is wet with dew. . .      do you?

I don't know why
          the sun is round
          or why a seed grows
          in the ground

          or why the thunder
          makes a sound. . .       do you?

I don't know why
          the clouds are white
          or why the moon
          shines very bright

          or why the air
          turns black at night. . . do you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

An Abundance of Notebooks

My One Little Word for 2017 is "abundance." Among other things, it's got me thinking about cleaning out. What material things do I have an abundance of? What items am I holding onto? Where in my life can I pare down to make room for the type of abundance I am seeking: the abundance of the spirit?

One thing I have an abundance of is notebooks. Most of them have been gifted to me -- and I love them! I love how they remind me of the individuals who gave them to me, and how the empty pages hold so much promise, and how the covers so very often contain bits of wisdom and beauty and inspiration.

What I'd like to do is give them all away. Pass them on. (Well, not ALL of them...) This year I will be looking for opportunities to do just that... maybe these notebooks will go to attendees at one of my sessions at a writing conference. Maybe I will distribute them to some special students. I'm not sure yet, but I will let you know!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Too Many Revisions

One of the best-loved books that survived my childhood and still remains a favorite of mine is TOO MANY KITTENS by Mabel Watts, illustrated by Suzanne. (That's right: "Suzanne," like "Madonna." No last name!)

In the book Carol wants a kitten, so her father puts a "wanted" ad in the paper. The next morning a parade of kittens begin arriving at Carol's door! Too many kittens, her mother tells her she can only have one. So Carol begins giving all the kittens away. Until finally there is just one left: Boots, who looks like he simply wants to stay. And so finally Carol has a kitten all her own.

I thought of this book a few minutes ago when I was reading Bobbi Miller's wonderful post about revision over at Teaching Authors. There is this book I have been working on since 2010. Not only have I done revision after revision, I have drafted version after version! TOO MANY REVISIONS. At least that's the way it feels sometimes.

But I know Boots is waiting for me behind the stove, just like in the book. I'm looking and looking. Someday, if I keep revising, I will find the right story. xo

Friday, February 3, 2017

Poetry and More from SOME WRITER! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Penny at a penny and her jots for Roundup.

I am off adventuring today, but I want to share some poetry and other goodness!

First, THANK YOU to those poets who responded to the Myra Cohn Livingston challenge in last week's post! Looking at you, Linda M., Jan, Brenda, Linda B., and Heidi! Really good off-the-cuff writing, poets! It's a joy to read your words.

Now some links:

"How to Rise" - a poem I wrote for Spiritual Journey Thursday

an interview in which I was asked for 5 words to describe myself... I am still pondering the words I selected!

2 "Musts" for Writing Middle Grade Novels

And now, for a look at SOME WRITER! by Melissa Sweet! This is a fun-to-explore book, and I found much in E.B. White's life that I could relate to. Here are 11 things, in no particular order:

1. E.B. White was well-loved by his parents.

There's a letter from his father written to his son on the occasion of his 12 birthday, and it is full of joy and support and love! I loved reading it, and I feel so fortunate to have similar letters from each of my parents.

2. E.B. White wrote love poems.

Here's one he wrote for his wife, Katharine Sergeant Angell:

Natural History

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
He builds a ladder to the place
From which he started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.

The poem was later read at Katharine's funeral... though E.B. White was too distraught to attend. (Letters of E.B. White, 1929)

3. E.B. White knew how to snatch time.

“The best writing,” he said “is often done by persons who are snatching time from something else.”

4. E.B. White believed in keeping it simple.

In an article about the great Depression, Andy wrote, “The hope I see for the world... is to simplify life.”

5. E.B. White embraced revision.

"Do not be afraid to seize whatever you have written and cut it to ribbons; it can always be restored to its original condition in the morning... Remember, it is no sign of weakness or defeat that your manuscript ends up in need of major surgery. This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers."

6. E.B. White wrote from a place of love.

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around.”

7. E.B. White loved the words, not the writer.

Melissa Sweet writes that "E.B. White never believed that writers were celebrities. He wrote that when he was a child, an author 'was a mythical being... The book was the thing, not the man behind the book.' He did not seek literary approval and never considered himself a great reader- he preferred reading farm journals and boating magazines."

8. E.B. White trusted children and gave them credit for their intellectual and emotional capacities.

"Children are game for anything. I throw the hard words, and they backhand them over the net."

9. E.B. White had fun (writing for children): 

John Updike, who worked with Andy at The New Yorker (Katharine White was his editor) remembered “how much more fun” Andy seemed to have than the rest of the younger staff. “Not loud or obvious fun, but contained, inturning fun.”

10. E.B. White believed in the goodness of humans:

"Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time, waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man's curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out."

11. E.B. White reminds me a lot of my father.

"Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day." (Letters of E.B. White, 1973)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How to Rise

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey FIRST Thursday! Today we are all sharing our thoughts and feelings about Leigh Anne's One Little Word "Rise." Be sure to visit her blog His Turn for a linkup of all the posts!

The word RISE brings to my mind some of my favorite quotes:

fall seven times, get up eight

if you're going through hell... keep going

a winner is a loser who tried one more time

And it takes me back to one of my favorite poems ever: "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. Here's Viola Davis... and then Langston Hughes... giving a beautiful reading!

So rising is really about perseverance, and hanging in there, not giving up.

I know for me, my confidence is built when I have the opportunity to rise. Which means I have to allow myself to fail. Which means taking chances. Which means getting out of my comfort zone. Which means being brave. Which is hard!

How to Rise

A kite needs wind,
smoke needs fire.

A whale dives


before it swims up for air.

A balloon doesn't stop
to ask, what's it all for?

It simply lifts,
find new mountains
to float over.

And each day the sun returns,
reminding us

              to try
                         once more.

- Irene Latham