Friday, January 5, 2018

Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea

Hello and Happy first Poetry Friday of 2018! Be sure to visit lovely Catherine at Reading to the Core for Roundup.

It's been a busy week -- and brrrr, COLD. I know I am not alone in this, and certainly not experiencing the worst of it (way down here in the south), but my face has very nearly frozen off on our afternoon walks by the lake! As must as it hurts (to have your face very nearly frozen off), it's also quite alive-making, invigorating, and strangely inspiring. Know what I mean?

So today I have a look at a new book of poems TRAVELING THE BLUE ROAD: Poems of the Sea, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Bob Hansman & Jovan Hansman (a father-son team), and brought to us by Seagrass Press. It's filled with poems by a league of poetic luminaries and takes readers on a series of (difficult) sea journeys from Columbus's voyage through the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. This is not a dolphins-leaping-for-joy kind of book. Instead it illuminates the darkness of the sea, its power, and the cruel/heartbreaking ways humans have experienced it.

I love this quote from Lee's introduction:  "Meticulously crafted poems stir us, shake us, cause us to think, wander, ponder, imagining what might have been, bringing to life imagery only poets can convey via the power of words."
Now there's something to aspire to!

Here are two poems I'd like to share:
Mediterranean Blue
by Naomi Shihab Nye

If you are the child of a refugee, you do not
sleep easily when they are crossing the sea
on small rafts and you know they can't swim.
My father couldn't swim either. He swam through
sorrow, though, and made it to the other side
on a ship, pitching his old clothes overboard
at landing, then tried to be happy, make a new life.
But something inside him was always paddling home,
clinging to anything that floated - a story, a food or face.
They are the bravest people on earth right now,
don't dare look down on them. Each mind a universe
swirling as many details as yours, as much love for
a humble place. Now the shirt is torn,
the sea too wide for comfort, and nowhere
to receive a letter for a very long time.

And if we can reach out a hand, we better.

Seas Seas
by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Seas seas seas seas seas seas seas seas
Seas seas sweeping seas whispering seas
seas seas violating seas massive seas unknown seas
seas seas smooth seas unfathomable seas titan seas
seas seas blue seas warning seas swooping seas
seas seas clinging seas breathing seas
seas seas seas seas seas seas seas seas

Aren't those wonderful? I love the first for its relevance and the way it reminds us of us of our connectedness to things that may be happening far away, but are part of us, too. And the second for its music and truth. I love when poets use sound like this. Beautiful!

And now a poem I wrote some years ago when I was working on a collection of ocean poems that was much more a celebration of sea life. Some of those poems found homes in WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA, which of course features marine life. Others, like the one below, have been swimming unseen in that file for years now. Thank you for reading!

The Ocean Opens Its Arms
by Irene Latham

Come to me, oh hungry ones,
Come to me, explorers.
Come and tip your toes in surf,
then tumble

Let me paint your skin with salt,
adorn your hair with kelp --
Let me show you living shipwrecks
and riotous fields of reef.

Come to me, oh bravest ones.
Dive past your fear and listen:
Let me show you a universe
              than blue.

*all photos taken on our Mediterranean cruise summer 2017 -- the blue road has many faces, doesn't it?


  1. Thanks for sharing these poems. I am such a huge fan of Naomi Shihab Nye's poems. They always move my soul. And yours with the invitation to come to the blue, come to the deep. So much more than a poem about the ocean.

  2. The poems here are beautiful. Thank you for the review of The Blue Road. I have it but haven't read it yet. I am looking forward to it...even more now.
    Naomi Shihab Nye can get to the heart of things so fast. "something inside him was always paddling home,
    clinging to anything that floated - a story, a food or face" What lines! I am not much of a sea person. I think it's pretty. I like boats. But, I've always been a little scared of it's power. I think these sea poems are going to be like reading a thriller for me!

  3. Such rhythmic and salty poems with a splash of yearning. I love hearing about your collections, and the way your poems swam from one to another. Perhaps some of my small wayfarers will find their way to a friendly port one day.

  4. Thank you for sharing these gorgeous poems, Irene. The sea has always been a soothing presence for me. Naomi Shihab Nye's poem is amazing; so simple yet so profound. How do people not understand that having "as much love for/a humble place" is universal? And I am swooning over "a universe/deeper/than blue." I hope your ocean poems find a home port one day!

  5. What beautiful poems celebrating the sea and its many facets! Your poem is a read aloud delight--especially that second stanza. I had thought to visit the sea today to see what changes the recent storm had wrought but am deterred by the frigid temps. Soon though...

  6. I agree, the book is poignant, another way to view what terrible challenges refugees face, and not being able to swim! Naomi Nye has been telling these stories a long time, and we need to listen. I love "But something inside him was always paddling home", another view of sadness. And you know I love the ocean so your poem speaks to me of that and more in my life, "paint your skin with salt" - ah-h! Thank you, Irene.

  7. Thanks for the ocean poems! My daughter gave me the Everyman anthology Poems of the Sea for Christmas, and I've been enjoying reading ocean poems there, too. I love yours and Naomi Shihab Nye's. "Something inside him was always paddling home." Perfect.

  8. Thanks for helping us to remember those outside of ourself, those who may be standing right beside us, or trying to remain right beside us. Nye's is a powerful poem, while Hopkins slips in meaning between his waves. And your uplifting poem, I hope will restore a welcome to refugees, that they are missing today, thanks Irene!

  9. What an amazing trio of poems -- I want to share them with my students for all different reasons of content and craft. I am particularly taken with what LBH did with sound and patterns. NSH's will dovetail perfectly with our reading of REFUGEE. Yours, for the personification, the voice!

  10. Irene, you have given me a wonderful experience on this cold Sunday. I got time to linger in poetry of the sea, one of my favorite spots of nature. Naomi's poem is on a personal level that draws me to the plight of others: He swam through/sorrow. Lee's is effortlessly luring me to reflect on the majesty of the sea and your poem is full of images. Thanks for the break from reality. Enjoy the season and stay warm. Perhaps, your walks at the lake will bring a photograph and poem for my winter gallery.

  11. Isn't nice to go to old files and find a poem that you still like? Such a boost to one's confidence as a poet! I've found poems like that, which I can't remember why I wrote, but which, after unearthing, have made me stop and say, "Wow!"

  12. I have always been fascinated by the sea--both its beauty and its power. Thank you for these poems that explore the ever-changing nature of the ocean. It still holds so many mysteries.

  13. I'm pretty sure that Lee is kicking himself for not including your poem, which is not quite dolphins-jumping-for-joy but also acknowledges the riotous power of the sea. Nice triptych--I behold and am beholden!

  14. Such stirring poems, each in their own way. thanks for sharing, Irene, and congratulations again on your book with Charles!


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