Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Learning the Art of Cherokee Leaf Pounding

example for us newbies
This past weekend it was my great pleasure to attend a workshop put on by Alabama Folklife Association with instructor Rosa Hall and her daughter Monica to teach the art of Cherokee leaf pounding.

No, we are not sure the Cherokee actually used this method. But one of our National Heritage Fellow quilters from Alabama Bettye Kimbrell did. Her work was so gorgeous!

selecting our leaves
 So a group of us met at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve to practice transfering leaves to fabric. It requires a hammer or hammerstone, some earplugs, a piece of wood, some newspaper, paper towel, masking tape, leaves... and imagination!

perfect-sized hammerstone!
I discovered pretty quickly that I like using a stone better than a hammer (I like the way it fits in my hand), and I like pounding it in my lap (like Bettye did!) rather than on a table. This requires some padding under the board to protect my legs, obviously! Thankfully my tablemates were far better prepared than I, and I was able to borrow some muslin.

my practice piece
I wasn't expecting to enjoy the process so much, but something about the repetitive movement and the physicality of pounding those leaves was relaxing and meditative to me. I loved my results and can't wait to try some on my own! I really want to try transferring some designs to men's handkerchiefs -- because my father always carried a handkerchief, and aren't they the perfect size? I *might* even quilt them. We'll see!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Remembering Richard Peck

This Memorial Day I want to say thank you to all the men and women who have died serving our country. We remember you with love and gratitude! And I also want to say a few words about one of my literary heroes Richard Peck, who died last week. Click here to read his obituary.

As a long-time lover of middle grade fiction, Richard Peck has been one of those luminaries for me. So imagine my delight when he blurbed my first novel LEAVING GEE'S BEND! Eep! Here's what emblazoned the cover of the 2010 first hardcover edition (G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin):

"Ludelphia Bennett reaffirms the human spirit and defines survival in this beautifully stitched quilt of a novel."

I mean, really, it doesn't get any better than that! And yet... it DOES! In April of that same year, I got to meet Richard Peck. I thanked him for blurbing my book, and he gave me a big hug... and signed my book, too.

Richard said some pretty brilliant things that day. I catalogued them in a blog post "Ode to Richard Peck." I hope you will join me in remembering Richard today. What a beautiful, generous spirit. This Memorial Day and all days, I'd like to be more like him.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Fairy Poem

fairy door -- it actually opens,
which I love!
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Margaret at Reflections on the Teche for Roundup.

It's official: the boy has graduated and headed off to camp. The nest is feeling sad and empty today. :(

Good thing we recently installed a fairy door in our front yard... we need some wee visitors full of mischief and good cheer!

Here is a poem to welcome them.

Come, Fairies

Share with me
your twinkletoe way
of tickling the daisies,

teach me your
rabbit enchantments.

I want to know how
to buzz bumblespeak,

how to sail like a swallowtail,
all gentle swoops
and loop-de-loops.

The tall grass sways
with your mischief,

the mushrooms
bloom with your magic.

Come fairies,
it's a poet knocking.

I bring word-bouquets
and baskets
of freshbaked metaphor.

Won't you please

open your door?

- Irene Latham

... and here is a pic of the boy. We're so proud!
Class of 2018!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Because Everyone Should Learn How to Make Pine Needle Baskets

bundle of clean pine needles 

My new lake community has a lovely group of women called the Lady Lakers who meet once a month for fellowship and also to coordinate good works for the community -- like yard sales and concerts and 5k runs and donations to the local school and so much more!

This past weekend we all gathered to learn how to weave pine needle baskets.

Lady Lakers!
Friends, as with many primitive arts, this is so much harder than it looks! We started with walnut pieces for the center... and clumps of cleaned and boiled longleaf pine needles. (You have to prep the pine needles first by using fingernails or scissors to remove the bark-y cap on the end.) We used needles and waxed thread to start wrapping the straw around the walnut. We did our best to follow instructor Jane's every tip and direction. (Jane learned at John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina... totally on my bucket list to spend a week up there!)

Some of us (me!) put in way more stitches than necessary attaching the first layer of pine needles to the walnut, and that kind of threw off the stitching design. Some of us (me!) realized pretty quickly that pine needle basketry was not our "thing." (Maybe it's my left-handedness? It just felt too... something. Probably I'll like it better the next time I try. :)

the bottom of a basket
(that will never be completed)

But others of us (Grace!) took to it like fishermen takes to the water at 5 am on our lake... here's Grace's finished basket. Isn't it gorgeous?!

Jane's baskets
As for me, I bought a finished basket from Jane instead. :)

I'll be donating it back to the Lady Lakers' silent auction in the fall. Now that we all know how labor-intensive it is to make the darn things, I know everyone will want one -- not only will it be a beautiful place for cookies or crackers or other sweet treats, but what a fabulous conversation piece!

Thank you, Lady Lakers... and Jane!

Next up: Cherokee leaf pounding with Alabama Folklife Association!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Hello, Butler County, Alabama!

Last week it was my pleasure to visit with gifted students in Butler County, Alabama. Thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of teacher Lori Brown, they'd all read LEAVING GEE'S BEND -- which is appropriate, as Butler County is right next door to Wilcox County (where Gee's Bend is located).

We had a lovely time talking books and writing, and it was fun to sign books for these eager young readers and writers. Thank you, Lori, and Butler County for supporting school visits and for inviting me to share my work with your students!

the whole gang!

Lori Brown and Irene Latham
(with gift-copy of SCHOOL PEOPLE)

showing a Gee's Bend style quilt I made

attentive kids who later asked brilliant questions!
 In other news, I will be traveling to Gee's Bend in July as part of Alabama Folklife Association quilting programming (you can register, too!) ... and I just might bring home a quilt! Yes, Mary Ann Pettway is making one for me, and maybe it will be ready... Fingers crossed!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Perfect Day at Poet's House

Slowly, slowly I am catching up here at Live Your Poem. Today I want to share about our event at Poet's House, which happened April 21 in Manhattan.

This event was set up by Charles Waters, who is a regular at Poet's House -- and of course everyone there loves him!

It's a beautiful building near Battery Park with all sorts of poetry memorabilia... and of course the 70,000 volume collection of poetry books. :)

We presented on CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?, and the amazing staff put together a "hair" craft, much like Sean and Selina's craft for PEN World Voice, though there was no prior discussion about it, so it was just a happy coincidence. The kids really seemed to enjoy it! We loved taking
craft station!
pics of the kids with their happy creations (see below). We also read poems from the book and answered a few questions from the audience. It was fun to give shout-outs to  our editor Carol Hinz and one of the illustrators Selina Alko, who were in the audience.

Also in the audience were three of my guys, though two of them were sick! You can probably tell which ones from the picture. :)

Paul (sick), Andrew (not sick), Eric (sick)

And here's the reason for the book and why do these things:

Aren't they wonderful?!

"Back off, I'm a poet."
Finally, here's a pic of me with a poetry tote gifted me by dear friend Robyn Hood Black. Kind of the perfect accessory in New York City during National Poetry Month, yes? :)

So many thanks to all involved! And readers, next time you are in New York City, be sure to visit Poet's House. It's all kinds of inspiring. I know you're going to love it! 

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Horse-y Poetry Friday

wee me with a (wee) miniature horse
Cinnamon, and foal Sugar (behind)
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Rebecca at Sloth Reads for Roundup.

Around these parts, spring has quickly morphed into blazing summer. It's all good, though! We've enjoyed several sightings of your nearest neighbors -- a pair of bald eagles! I've been writing, of course... and working on last-call edits for two forthcoming picture books. (Click to see a sneak peek of those covers!) I've also been spending as much time with our son as possible -- he's a graduating high school senior, and the day after graduation he will leave to work as a camp counselor for the summer: 

BOOM! Empty nest! 

No, I am not ready. Super excited for him and all that awaits, but wow. This raising-kids thing went by terribly fast! Sigh. Good thing I've got books (and an awfully sweet husband) to keep me company. 

With that in mind, today I'd like to share a book I checked out from the library and then decided to purchase, because I love it so much: THE HORSE'S HAIKU by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows, brought to us by Candlewick Press.

I love horses. I love books about horses. And this one is certainly a celebration of our equine friends. So many of my most favorite moments of horse-watching are recorded here:

one foal nods, slicing
the fog shared breaths - the mare
nods in agreement

I have LOVED watching horses speak to one another on cold fog-breathy mornings! It feels so intimate, so reverential.

And how 'bout this one, about the magic of a horse emerging from a dust roll:

wriggling in the dirt,
dust clouds of kicking hooves, then --
poof! -- horse standing there

There are haiku about shadows and hoofprints and that lip-flutter way horses take a treat from your palm. About water dribbling from the horse's mouth and those pesky horseflies.

One of my favorite spreads is about the horse's eye:
art by Stan Fellows

Even horse-chores are made beautiful, as in this one about cleaning a horse's hooves:

front leg half-folded
horse's hoof rests in your palm
weightless as prayer

And what about that moment during a gallop (or jump) when all for hooves are in the air at once?

time, too, must stretch as
rear hooves launch from earth.. and then
front hooves ground again

The final one I'd like to share is about that relationship between horse and rider:

right food slid in place,
heels pressed down in both stirrups-
trust is your seat belt

This is the perfect book for that horse-loving person in your life. I've actually written quite a lot of poems about horses and horse-love, so I thought I'd use this opportunity to share a couple with you today:

first, one from childhood:

See his action, see him run
Such a beauty when he's won
Whipping mane, flowing tail
His coat like a rusty nail
Winning by one hundred lengths
Everyone knows he has no kinks
Such a wonderful horse was he
There really was no race to see
Twenty races out of twenty-one
What a sight to see him run!

- Irene Dykes (long before I was Latham)

Next, an unpublished poem (pic is from a trip to Chincoteague Island, which you can read about here)

Anatomy of a Horse

mane for braiding
hooves for painting

whisker-tipped lips
for teasing carrots
from your fingertips

tail for swishing
nose for nuzzling

weather-vane ears
for broadcasting
each mood and feeling

eyes for admiring
neck for hugging

basketball-sized heart
for a long life
of loving you

- Irene Latham

There's also a "horse" poem in CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?
Horseback Riding

I don't know how to explain
to Charles how I feel about horses
when he shuffles so fast
from one subject to the next.

Finally I blurt, sometimes I just need
a break from people.

He surprises me and shuts up right away,
so I tell him about the sweet scent
of hay and saddle soap,
how my stomach somersaults

when Honey surges from trot to canter,
and how the wind parts my hair
when I lean into her neck
whispering, faster, faster.

When I want Honey to slow down,
all I have to do
is give the reins a gentle tug,
and soon we are back to clop-clopping.

Honey and I understand each other
without any words at all.

- Irene Latham

Have YOU written a horse poem? If so, I'd love to read it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

PEN World Voices Festival, Or In Which I Meet Sean Qualls & Selina Alko

There are many joyous moments for a writer in the picture book creation process:

1. when you discuss possible illustrators with the editor 

2. when you find out which illustrator actually got the job

3. when you see the first sketches

4. when you see the final art

5. when you meet the illustrator(s)!

Actually, #5 has only happened to me once so far -- this past April at PEN World Voices Festival in Brooklyn, where Charles Waters and I joined Sean Qualls and Selina Alko for a "poetry and collage" workshop. Thank you, PEN folks for having us!

Also present was our editor and mother o' the book Carol Hinz... and a new friend: photo-illustrator Shelley Rotner. I would love to collaborate with Shelley at some point! Meanwhile, she was kind enough to take these shots of Team CITYH (CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR?):

having artsy-fun:
Sean Qualls, Selina Alko,
Charles Waters, Irene Latham,
Carol Hinz

Selina Alko displaying samples
of the craft

Sean Qualls creating skin-tone paint

yes, we can be serious, too. :)
and finally, a collage of the collage:

Pretty awesome, right? 

I do hope at some point to meet some of my other co-creators: Stephanie Graegin, illustrator of DON'T FEED THE BOY; Anna Wadham, illustrator of both DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA; Mique Moriuchi, illustrator of FRESH DELICIOUS; Thea Baker, illustrator of forthcoming LOVE, AGNES (October 2018); John Holyfield, illustrator of forthcoming MEET MISS FANCY (January 2019).

Monday, May 14, 2018

Spring in New York City

I'm still playing catch-up here at Live Your Poem, and today I'm excited to share about the school visits Charles Waters and I had last month in Manhattan.

the superfun SPONGEBOB stage
I was so happy Paul was able to join me on this trip -- he and I have a long history of enjoying New York City together! This time we stayed at Mansfield Hotel (near the library), thanks to a special deal from Travelzoo. We loved it! It was quiet and in such a convenient location. Unfortunately Paul got sick on our trip... and it was a bit colder than we would have liked... but we still had fun. Part of that fun included our younger sons who came in mid-week (one of whom also got sick, unfortunately)... of course we had to see SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS on Broadway. :) We also saw THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, which had us laughing pretty much start to finish.

Other fun stops included the Empire State Building first thing in the morning -- which was so, so lovely and inspiring! -- and a carriage ride around Central Park. We joined Charles at Champs Diner, one of his favorite all-vegan restaurants and met him for a walk along the High Line and also a peek inside the Langston Hughes house, now home of i, too arts collective.  One morning when it was raining I got several new book ideas at National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey. Good times!

Our first school visit was another picturesque location... PS 276 Battery Park School. Those kids enjoy a view of Lady Liberty outside the library window every single day! Basia Tov and the kids made us feel so very welcome... and many of them showed up later in the week for our big shin-dig at Poets House. (more on this next post!)
Irene Latham, Basia Tov, Charles Waters
 Next we visited PS 15 in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, thanks to Michele Wiseman of Meet the Writers, where we met another group of of great kids and educators! We loved working with Michele and appreciate so much the work she does to bring authors into schools. Both Charles and I believe we'd have gotten to writing a lot sooner if we'd been able to meet an author when we were going to school. Here we are in the library:
S. Matz, Charles Waters,
 Irene Latham, Michele Wiseman
Our final school visit was arranged through Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn: the Co-op School: Joyful Learning in Brooklyn. We loved seeing all the art on the walls at this school, and the kids asked some fabulous questions. What fun! Thanks to all involved at all these schools.

I'll leave you with a final picture:

Two Grateful Poets

Friday, May 11, 2018

Identity Poem after THE CREATIVITY PROJECT, edited by Colby Sharp

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup for what's sure to be a delicious Roundup!

 I'm in this week with a look at THE CREATIVITY PROJECT, edited by Colby Sharp

If you haven't seen it yet, it's a book that's kind of like an inspiration game... one children's book writer or illustrator sending a prompt to another children's book writer or illustrator. I was particularly drawn to the illustrative parts. In fact, probably 
Lisa Brown's response
 my most favorite response is by Lisa Brown to this prompt by Laurel Snyder:
“Try to think of an abstract idea. For instance, you might choose “joy” or “hunger” or “stupidity.” Now imagine that abstraction as a character It can look like a person, an animal, or a creature of your own invention. Once you've got the character in your head, set it in motion. Make it DO something. “Joy” might ride a bicycle “Hunger” might go to the movies. “Stupidity” might dig a hole Tell me the story of what happens.

Javaka Steptoe's response
Another one I loved was also visual -- this one by Javaka Steptoe in response to this prompt by Kat Yeh:
“You have a brand new audio translation app on your phone. Just as you click on it for the first time, your dog starts barking. And words begin to appear on the screen...

The book also includes prompts in the back, though one could use any of the prompts (or responses) to generate new work. Here are a few examples of some of my favorite prompts included:

hummingbird frenzy
each whir of wings helps me feel
earthbound and dazzled

You have just met a girl named Hanrui. In Chinese, her name means “a bud just ready to bloom.”

Write a list of ten things you are NOT (not an astronaut, a perfectionist, a wool spinner, a butterfly, a name-caller). Then pick your favorite lines and develop, or embellish, them, adding metaphors, more description, whatever you like.

*Because I love "identity" writing prompts -- and am constantly looking for new ones since working with readers of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? -- this is the one I decided to tackle right away!

Here's my quick list of nots:

not a veterinarian
not a complainer
not an athlete
not a procrastinator
not the mother of a daughter
not a party person
not a tv-watcher
not a camper
not a church-goer
not a social-media junkie
not a coffee drinker

And here's my poem:

scrapbook page from our tour
of an olive tree farm
in Napa Valley (2006)
My Name is Peace

No coffee for me;
I drink tea.

Not bubbly or bouncy;
I like to sit quietly.

No time for complaining –
I find it draining.

No procrastinating –
what's the point of waiting?

Not fragile or feathery;

more like a knotted olive tree.

- Irene Latham

Some notes about the poem: "Irene" actually means peace -- and of course the olive tree is a symbol of peace.
I struggled a while with a descriptor for the olive tree, and when I found "knotted" it felt like a miracle... another "not" for the poem!
It's interesting to me that I ended up starting my poem with the last item on my list. It makes me wonder what my poem might have been if I'd written 20 or 30 things on my list instead... how deep might I have gone into my identity? Something to try another day!

Won't you give it a try as well?