Thursday, August 31, 2017

What's that SOUND underground?

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit our resident Aussie Kat at Kathryn Apel for Roundup.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what's going on under our feet. Two books in particular have gotten me there: THE NATURALIST by E.O. Wilson and THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben.

E.O. Wilson's life's work has been the discovery and cataloguing of ants. A number of ant species' are subterranean, so one has to dig to find them.

And trees, well, trees are talking to each other underground, in their oh-so-slow with-the-help-of-fungi way. I learned about it in THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES. Here is a fabulous podcast interview with the author for the audio-inclined. (Thank you, April!)

And what does this have to do with poetry? Well, Jane Yolen's THUNDER UNDERGROUND  (brought to us by WordSong, with illus. by Josee Masse) includes 21 poems on what's happening down there! And the back cover poses the delicious question in the subject line of this post: What's the SOUND underground? (Which reminds me of a post I wrote from a few years back about sound and poetry.)

Here is a favorite poem from the collection:


This dot,
this spot,
this period at the end
of winter's sentence
writes its way up
through the dull slate of soil
into the paragraph of spring.

- Jane Yolen

Great metaphor, isn't it?

It got me thinking: are there other "punctuation" poems? And then I had to laugh, because indeed, there are three of them in FRESH DELICIOUS! Squash varieties as question mark, exclamation mark, and period. Ha!

So, poets... do YOU have any punctuation poems? Please share!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Song to Remember, A Song to Unite

I am sharing today a song created by my son Eric and his friends in response to the recent death of a classmate.

These kids are all highschoolers. The song speaks for itself. Thank you for listening!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Writing with Homeschoolers

Meeting young readers/writers
is so much fun!
Last week it was my pleasure to work with a homeschool group at Homewood Public Library here in Birmingham. Homeschooling families are near and dear to my heart -- in part because I was a homeschool mom for several years!

What many don't know (this group didn't) is that even though our three sons have all graduated/will graduate from a public high school, I have homeschooled various kids or various reasons at the elementary, middle and high school levels. And I. Loved. It. I wouldn't trade that time learning together with my kids for anything. I'm so grateful to have had that opportunity and experience.

So what did I do with this homeschool group? Well, the library billed it as "local author will talk about what it takes to get started in the literary world." Only I didn't discover this verbiage until a day before our scheduled meeting -- after I had created a lesson on writing poems and stories after Pixar postcards.

So -- we did both!

First I gave them a handout with my tips for writing/publishing for kids. (If YOU want the handout, I am happy to share it! Simply email me: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com.) Here are the young writers (and moms) selecting postcards:

And then we started writing.... using description, emotion, and imagination.
We had swamps and oceans and ants and loneliness and Star Wars references... we talked through ways to expand themes the that emerged... and it was completely inspiring. Thank you, writers!

Friday, August 25, 2017

An Abundance of Sweet Summer Swapness

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Check It Out for Roundup. I'm excited to share with you some more of my Summer Poem Swap treasures. I shared earlier what Margaret sent me, and today I'm featuring lovelies from Buffy, Violet, and Iphigene.

But first, in case you missed it: I wrote earlier this week about a poetry-cookbook you might enjoy! Last week I shared some architecture quotes that sound like they're talking about poetry!

Buffy, ever the nature enthusiast, sent a Golden Shovel, using my poem "Tree for All" from Dear Wandering Wildebeest as her source poem. I'm so honored! And look what Buffy created:

Monarch's Commandment

Beware my stripes, you blue jays, crows, and owls
I'm not fit for feathered babes that beg in your nest
Sneak a beakful of me and you will be stricken in
your crop and stomach, your head and heart - my
body is a cesspool, brimming with toxins, hidden
in my skin and guts. Your insides will cramp to a knothole;
Think of the nausea, the gagging. It's hardy worth a nip of my
plump body. Remember this knowledge from cradle
to grave and pass over me. Teach your cozies
to avoid me while I creep and eat. Soon I will grow a brand new
body and become king of the sky, rising through air on brilliant wings.
- Buffy Silverman

How much do I love "cozies" as a noun?!

From Violet I received a photo-illustrated poem-book! She titled it "Artistry," and it's a collection of images and words that show the everyday art found in her hometown (Langley). Perhaps my favorite spread features benches and a mural of a door opening to a flight of stairs.

Here are the words that accompany:

Artistry opens a door
that isn't there
and lures us to sit 
and visit in the sun

- Violet Nesdoly

Let's sit in the sun together, shall we?

Iphigene sent me (all the way from the Phillipines) a gorgeous original painting and poem inspired by my 2017 One Little Word "Abundance."

Let Us

Let us do this -
Open arms running across fields
Stumbling through rocks
Picking ourselves up
with laughter echoing
through our chests

Let us walk through crowds
Stand in line
waiting for an adventure
of a good meal and time
to watch people

Let us do this -
Jump into the newness
of unchartered waters
falling and learning
opening ourselves
to possibility

Discovering to live our
poems, letting words
grow, bear fruit
in our every day,
in abundance

- Iphigene Daradar
Here's to open arms and bearing fruit! 

Thank you, poets, for shining your sweet light on my summer. xo

p.s. obligatory eclipse-watching photo:
courtesy of my eclipse buddy Paul

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Poetry of Food

Recently I passed by this Bible verse on a church sign:

All ate and were filled.
Matthew 15:37

And then I was at an art show and saw this:

Every table is an altar.

Both remind of my 2017 One Little Word "Abundance," and to be grateful, and that even the most mundane moments are an opportunity to celebrate -- and create -- beauty.

And that reminds me of this book: 

Eat this Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta. Be sure to click the link to visit Nicole's blog by the same name, where she posts beautiful poetic thoughts and pictures of the food she's cooking. Poems and dishes that go with them... that's a feast I can get behind! (Obviously... I did write FRESH DELICIOUS. Ha!)
Click here for Fresh Delicious-inspired poems by students!

Do you have a favorite food poem? Please share in comments!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Poem for Monday's Eclipse

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Kay at A Journey Through the Pages for Roundup.

Like so many, I've got the eclipse on my mind!

In Frank Close's recent LA Times article about the eclipse he opens with this question: "What is the most beautiful natural phenomenon you have ever seen?"

So many things pop up for me: red sun sinking into the Mediterranean, blue sky through the giants of Muir Woods, Pacific Ocean through the keyhole at Sunny Jim's Cave in La Jolla, California, the granite walls from the floor of Yosemite Valley, Crater Lake, coral reef beneath Little Cayman... and so many I've yet to see for myself, like the northern lights and Antarctica's blue-green 'bergs...

So it is with joy and yes, those special viewing glasses (!) that I greet Monday's big event. We are not in a prime viewing area here in Birmingham, but 94% is not too shabby.

I do have this memory of seeing an eclipse when I was in high school, but turns out this was not a TOTAL eclipse. Here's more information about the history of eclipses visible in the U.S. On a related note, I also have vivid memories of my brother playing on piano the opening of the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" again and again and again...

Now that's poetry. :) It seems natural phenomena often inspires we poets. So today my Poetry Friday offering is a wee eclipse poem. Is it a haiku? I am always reluctant to issue this label when I am not sure I have actually met the requirements... anyway, it's short!


interloper moon
pirates blazing day-kiss
Earth's face darkens

- Irene Latham

Happy viewing! And happy weekend. xo

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Poetry of Architecture (and the Architecture of Poetry)

Speaking of architecture...
(outside the High Museum)
At our recent visit to the High Museum in Atlanta -- my last post was about the Ashley Bryan exhibit -- I got waylaid in the gift shop in part due to some beautiful books about architecture. I love thinking about the art of spaces -- lines and shapes and function. And I was struck how much architecture is like poetry. Here are some quotes from a book called THE ARCHITECT SAYS: Quotes, Quips and Words of Wisdom by Laura S. Dushkes:

 "Architecture is a discipline that takes time and patience. If one spends enough years writing complex novels one might be able, someday, to construct a respectable haiku. - Thom Mayne

Ha! This is SO TRUE. Writing is also a discipline that time and patience. And the less words, generally the more difficult to pull of.

"My work is a constant process of uncovering. Do not forget, there is no new history. The architects I am going back to are all still there. They do not move. I move." - Peter Eisenman

Isn't the work of a poet a constant process of uncovering? Wonder and discovery, and yes, always always movement. Which means we should always be challenging ourselves, always be trying new ways to seeing, thinking... and new ways of arranging the words.

"If you have total freedom, then you are in trouble. It's much better when you have some obligation, some discipline, some rules. When you have no rules, they you start to build your own rules." -Renzo Piano

I tell students that one of the things I love about poetry is the freedom - "no rules." What I mean is, any way you write a poem is fine. It doesn't have to rhyme or have a certain number of lines. It's up to you! BUT. Of course there are some obligations -- especially in form poetry. Which is why even those of us who highly prefer free verse should sometimes muddle through the forms. For the discipline.

"What if a building were more like a nest? If it were, it would be made out of local, abundant materials. It would be specific to its site and climate. It would use minimal energy but maintain comfort. It would last just long enough and then would leave no trace. It would be just what it needed to be." - Jeanne Gang

A poem that's just what it needs to be... that is the goal, isn't it? And to use local, abundant materials... one need not write about grand things, but every day things. Poems are everywhere!

"In a strange way, architecture is really an unfinished thing, because even though the building is finished, it takes on a new life. It
 becomes part of a new dynamic: how people will occupy it, use it, think about it." -Daniel Libeskind

Poetry, too, is an unfinished thing. I can't think of a single poem of mine that I wouldn't like to improve in some way. It's how we poets are always tinkering. And then when you put it in the hands of a reader -- well, it isn't yours at all anymore. It's theirs. As it should be!

"When an architect is asked what his best building is, he usually answers, 'The next one.'" - Emilio Ambasz

I don't know that I've ever been asked what my best poem is. But I think 'the next one' is exactly the right answer. Which is why... I'm signing off now to write a poem!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Found: A Beautiful Blackbird (and More!) at High Museum

Last week Paul and I took a quick trip to Atlanta for a concert and to see High Museum's exhibit "Painter and Poet: The Wonderful World of Ashley Bryan."

I love Ashley Bryan. What a gentle, vibrant spirit! And his work is full of surprise and color and meaning. The exhibit included quite a few original spreads from Ashley's picture books, a whole case of puppets, and, of course, baskets of his books! We also watched a video in which Ashley himself talks about his work. I was enchanted. And it made me want to visit the Ashley Bryan Center in Maine! Maybe next summer?

Anyhow, here are some picture from the museum:

I love Granny Anika's song:
"Mama loves peas,
Papa loves  corn,
Baby loves beans
Sure as you're born.
Put in potatoes,
Granny loves yam,
Don't forget okra,
Beets and jam."
It also reminds me of Mr. Jim's vegetable plate.

"I" is for Irene... and "If I could imagine the shaping of Fate, I would think of blackmen handling the sun." - Raymond Patterson (from ABC of African American Poetry)

Ashley's work features lots and lots of animals!

from Ashley's autobiography Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song:
"This is my story. Whether it be bitter or whether it be sweet, take some it elsewhere and let the rest come back to me."

The Night Has Ears, one of my favorite Ashley Bryan books!

 And, because the High Museum is also featuring an exhibition of Andy Warhol's prints, I wanted to include this shot from the gift shop:

"Art is what you can get away with."

Friday, August 11, 2017

Poems Inspired by Greek Philosophers

cutest swap graphic ever!
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Margaret at Reflections on the Teche for Roundup.

Now that baby boy is back in school, I can start catching up! I'm excited today to share with you the first Poem Swap treasure I received this summer... from Margaret, coincidentally! But first: bushels of hugs and kisses to Tabatha for creating and organizing the Poem Swap across the seasons! What a gift to all of us!

So. Margaret's poem was from a prompt in THE PRACTICE OF POETRY by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell to use a Greek Philosopher's quote as an epigraph. Here is her beautiful poem (which reminds me of my "sky" year!):

Listen to the Voice of the Sky
Dark and light, bad and good, are not different but one and the same. - Heraclitus

to the voice of the sky
which knows darkness
and light
are the same.

The sky plays
with light and shadow
as a cathedral painted
in stained glass.

Look to the sky
a gauge for weather --
acceptance of rain
as necessary,


as grass to the cow,
as solitude to awareness,
as life is to death.

- Margaret Simon

Lovely, isn't it?! And because this is what often happens during Poem Swap, I was inspired to write my own poem with a Greek philosopher's quote as an epigraph. Some of Margaret's themes bled into my poem as well.

A Murmuration of Acceptance

One thing I know, that I know nothing. This is the source of my wisdom. - Socrates

The day I learned I knew nothing,
poems swarmed the sky,
swooped across the sun like starlings,
as if one body
instead of a thrum of heartbeats,
a frenzy of syllables, 
a symphony of questions.

Nothing settled onto my chest
like a parched elephant,
not moving except for that endless lake
of skin twitching against flies,
and a voice said, you are exactly
where you are meant to be,

and in an instant the elephant dissolved –
all my worries retreated
to another kingdom,
my carefully constructed fears
crumbled and fell into a well 
with no bucket, no rope.

I knew nothing, but I wasn't lost.
Not part of the flock anymore,
not even a bird or a feather 
or a mite on a softly tucked wing.
Wisdom merely a small scrawl of letters,
and me the air a nightingale swallows 
when it sings –

not a song, no. Less than a breath,
for those accountants among us:
breath of a breath,
that can only ever become wind
when joined by a million
other jumbled alphabets 
brave enough to shape themselves
into words like nothing and forever,
before they, too, disappear.

- Irene Latham

Anyone else want to write a poem inspired by a Greek philosopher? Find quotes here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Revising Backwards

Among other things, I am in the middle of a novel revision.

This process seems endless, and I often lose my enthusiasm. But the other day, when I was ready to go shop on etsy instead, something wonderful happened. My mind flashed to my cello lesson.

Sometimes when I am struggling with a piece, my teacher Laura will take me through it backwards. We work through each trouble spot from the end to beginning, and then I play the piece start-to-finish, incorporating the corrections. It's an amazingly simple technique that somehow opens the brain (and the fingers!). Other musicians claim it makes learning a piece faster and practice sessions more efficient.

So I decided to try it with my writing. And you know? I saw things I hadn't seen before. I made connections. The narrative arc became more clear to me, and I realized one of the main problems with the plot was that my main character would NOT do what I was having her do. No way was that going to fly.

Sure, I probably would have figured this out eventually. But I truly believe it was this backwards approach that got me out of myself and more into my heroine and her story.

So, writers: next time you're struggling, try going backwards!

Also, turns out you can stimulate your fitness IQ, by walking backwards. Who knew?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Movie Monday: DUNKIRK and THEIR FINEST (or, In Praise of Authenticity & Optimism)

We didn't plan it this way, but this week we ended up seeing two movies back to back that somehow involved the historic retreat of forces during WWII at Dunkirk beach.

The first, THEIR FINEST (now available for streaming), is about a woman in 1940 England charged with writing a film script about Dunkirk. The film was part of the government's propaganda efforts, to give the public something with "authenticity and optimism." I don't think it's any mistake that this film (about the film) shines with exactly those qualities. It's a love story, it's a girl-finding-her-power story, it's a human story. It's also funny and sweet, and I totally want to watch it again.

The second, DUNKIRK, is in theaters now, cleaning up at the box office, in case you didn't know. We've been seeing the commercials for this movie forever... which might explain my initial lack of enthusiasm. Sure it looks beautifully shot, but haven't we seen this kind of sweeping war movie before? I don't enjoy watching people die on screen. It all feels so needless and hopeless. And yet, our youngest son really wanted to see it, and we'd just loved THEIR FINEST, so off we went!

And you know what? It was a good movie. Yes, beautifully shot. And my son said it deserves an Oscar for sound editing. It was tense in ways I wasn't expecting -- smart move building 3 storylines and continuing to cut between them. It also did what I've just been reading that we need to do in our books: show characters grappling with decisions. Give readers/viewers a chance to put themselves in those situations and decide what they might do.

But the best part was how the film had these moments of grace, these unexpected examples of humans at their very best -- humans making choices that are not just for themselves, but for the good of others. It moved me, and I wasn't expecting that.

Authenticity and optimism... check check!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What the Earth Says

Hello and welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! Today we are gathering at Julianne's blog To Read To Write To Be where we are discussing the topic "new beginnings."

This is a great topic -- isn't every day a new beginning? I have gotten through many a difficulty in my life using the "one day at a time" adage. It helps me to not stray too far into my fears for the future or regrets over the past... just be here now. Let each moment be a beginning.

As many of you know, about two years ago I started playing the cello. A new beginning for sure! And what I've discovered through the process of learning and making mistakes and being humble is that living life as a beginner is a wonderful way to be present and open to my life and what the world has to offer. I've been beginning -- and beginning again -- a sort-of memoir/devotional about this -- how to live life as a beginner.

And here's the thing: now I am not a beginner any more at the cello. So I've been trying other new things: I enrolled in a drawing class! We'll see where that takes me.

our lake house... with newly
painted-by-me red door!
Also, Paul and I bought a lake house! It's at a small-ish lake (250 or so acres; 15 miles of shoreline) and a sweet, quiet community less than an hour from our home. We've long talked about a lake house, but always abandoned the idea (too much trouble, the expense, wouldn't we feel like we HAD to go, what about all the other places in the world we want to see?). We've watched many a Lake House Bargain Hunt show over the years. And then, after an early-morning moment on the Gee's Bend ferry, we knew it was time. We needed water in our lives. Relaxation. Seclusion. New adventures.

So, for the first-time ever, I am driving the truck with the boat on the trailer and backing it into the water. (It's harder than it looks!) I am bass fishing with a rod and reel I've never used before. (Fun!) It's a new beginning for us as we are seeing the light after 23 years of parenting and the youngest son this month entering his senior year. Not quite empty nest, but getting there!

It's a new beginning AND a return to something -- a return to US, to a way of life we enjoyed before we were parents.

It's wonderful, is what it is!

And you know what? It feels right and real, like we are in exactly the right place. And that got me thinking about this poem by William Stafford:

In Response to a Question

The earth says have a place, be what that place
requires; hear the sound the birds imply
and see as deep as ridges go behind
each other. (Some people call their scenery flat,
their only picture framed by what they know:
I think around them rise a riches and a loss
too equal for their chart – but absolutely tall.)

The earth says every summer have a ranch
that’s minimum: one tree, one well, a landscape
that proclaims a universe – sermon
of the hills, hallelujah mountain,
highway guided by the way the world is tilted,
reduplication of mirage, flat evening:
a kind of ritual for the wavering.

The earth says where you live wear the kind
of color that your life is (gray shirt for me)
and by listening with the same bowed head that sings
draw all into one song, joining
the sparrow on the lawn, and row that easy
way, the rage without met by the wings
within that guide you anywhere the wind blows.

Listening, I think that’s what the earth says.

William Stafford

The lake house, with Paul, is my new place. And all that place requires is that I be... me. The most open, vulnerable, listening, always-a-beginner me. (I'm also talking more about the lake and August and beginnings  -- with a poem-- over at Smack Dab in the Middle!) xo