Friday, February 15, 2019

Another Kind of Valentine

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone at Check it Out for Roundup.

Yesterday I featured poems about a different kind of Valentine... and today I have yet another kind! Read on!!

In the past few months Charles Waters and I have been honored to find our book CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? on the following lists:
NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction Honor Book
NCTE Notable Poetry Book
ALA Notable Children's Book
CYBILS Finalist for Poetry (Congratulations to the winner: A LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds -- it's a phenomenal book!)
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award title for grades 3-6
... and another state award list we can't announce yet. :)

We hope this recognition means more readers will be having conversations about race, mistakes and friendship. We are always thrilled to be a part of these conversations, too. This past December Charles Waters and I zoomed with Mary Lee Hahn's class at Daniel Wright Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio.

This amazingly diverse group had read our book, and wow did they have some great questions for me and Charles! It was a joy to spend time with these engaged learners.

And then... the Valentines arrived: I got in the mail a bundle of thank you notes!  Mary Lee even enclosed an envelope for me to forward the notes to Charles -- which I did! He loved them, too, of course.

Valentines!

All the notes touched my heart with their words and art.  Two of the notes included poems that I am delighted to share with you today, thanks to permission granted by these students and their parents.

Here's the first one, from Zitlali:



the front of Zitali's card
Irene and Charles

Irene and Charles
They are best of friends
They stood out
And made a book
It's the best opritunity [sic] they took
And even though,
It might be scary
In the end,
look at all the messages,
That you have sent to ...
   The World.


- Zitlali

To Zitlali: Thank YOU for recognizing the courage it takes to write a book... and most of all, thank you for being a brave poet yourself! Your words -- and your message -- is beautifully written and so very important.



And now, 2 acrostic poems from Jasmine:



the front of Zitlali's card

Incredible
Radiant
Erisistable [sic]
Nice
Extraordinary


Caring
Hero
Awesome
Radient [sic]
Loving
Example
Sent a message

- Jasmine

To Jasmine: I want to live up to all those adjectives! Thank you! And I want you to know that those adjectives actually say far more about YOU, the poet, than they do about the subject. Thank you for showing us -- and the world -- the beauty in your heart!

And: so many thanks to Mary Lee for being a brave teacher. These conversations aren't easy, but they are essential in helping us to shape a more loving world.

I'll leave you with another valentine: a gratitude poem I wrote during ARTSPEAK! Portraits (2017):


Gratitude

And I would give you
milk
from the morning's 
first coconut

a symphony 
of palm fronds,
the scent of salt

I would give you
the eye of every hurricane
waves to bathe
your every shore

this red dress
with its lace collar,
this brown skin

all the sunshine
that lives inside
an island flower

all the sunshine

the sun

- Irene Latham

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day Poems by Aileen Fisher & Irene Latham

Valentines

I gave a hundred Valentines.
A hundred, did I say?
I gave a thousand Valentines
one cold and wintry day.

I didn't put my name on them
or any other words,
because my valentines were seeds
for February birds.

- Aileen Fisher



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Valentines

I didn't get any Valentines.
No Valentines at all.
My pockets are empty.
I'm feeling very small.

Then a snowflake hits my nose.
A cardinal flutters by.
Can it still be called a Valentine
when it comes from the sky?

- Irene Latham

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: COOKBOOK



Bobbie, cooking
(from a page in the scrapbook-
cookbook I gave her in 2005)
For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?
In January I wrote about: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

Here are February's prompts: chair, chlorine, church, concert, cookbook, couch, dancing, desk, dessert, dining room table, diploma.



COOKBOOK

While the primary cooks in my life during childhood were my mom and my Grandma Dykes, I probably learned the most about cooking from my mother-in-law. She loved cooking – and eating – the holiday feasts. But she was very much the a-little-of-this, a little-of-that kind of cook, seldom using a written recipe. So one year I shadowed her through the Thanksgiving meal preparations. I wrote down how much and what. From that I created a cookbook-scrapbook for her that contained recipes from her early marriage (she learned to cook using the classic Better Homes and Gardens cookbook) on up to the present-day. I included family photographs in the book, and also comments from family members about certain dishes. She loved it! And now, after more than a decade since her death, I still pull out her cookbook to make the recipes she brought into our lives. 

So: for anyone out there reading this who enjoys a loved-one's cooking, maybe shadow them through a meal? They will love the attention, and you will be so glad you took the time!

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: CONCERT

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

In January I wrote about: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

Here are February's prompts: chair, chlorine, church, concert, cookbook, couch, dancing, desk, dessert, dining room table, diploma.

CONCERT
The image I remember,
though my poster
was in color (purple!).

When I was in 9th grade, I was in love with Prince. And I wasn't alone – my then-best friend Michelle shared my passion. We listened to his music nonstop, and we had poster of him in our bedrooms. Mine was on the back of my door, carefully secured with tape on the back of the poster, so as not to mess it up. Prince liked purple –so did I! Prince was different – so was I! He was a great early teen celebrity crush, because yes, he was a man, but he was small and non-threatening. I wasn't ready for anything more. So, when his tour brought him to Birmingham, Michelle and I begged to go. By some miracle, my mom said YES – and she would be our chaperone. The concert was held at Boutwell Auditorium. We had seats on the floor, and it was LOUD. While we swayed and sang along to the songs, my mom sat straight-backed, her brow furrowed and lips a thin line. And then when the scent of marijuana drifted our way, my mom crumpled into her chair, head in hands. Later she told me it gave her an instant headache. I'm surprised she hung in there and didn't whisk us out of there right then. She did so much to make me happy! Midway through the concert when Michelle and I weaved our way through all the throbbing bodies to get to the bathroom, strange boys turned faceless by the dark auditorium grabbed at us. The concert wasn't as much fun after that. I don't remember attending another concert for a long time. Eventually the Prince poster came off my door. Michelle and I drifted apart. But my love of Prince's music remains.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: CHURCH


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For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

In January I wrote about: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

Here are February's prompts: chair, chlorine, church, concert, cookbook, couch, dancing, desk, dessert, dining room table, diploma.

CHURCH
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and I have many warm memories related to my experiences at the various churches we attended in all the places we lived. (I have some not-warm memories, too, but today I want to focus on the “good.”) And because this prompt is bringing up so much for me, I've decided to use this space to simply catalog some of the experiences, without going into great detail. My intention is to come back to this post later and expand some of these memories.

Interestingly, I recently learned that my mother was a reluctant Episcopalian. She switched to the Episcopal Church upon marrying my father (at his request), and when she spoke of it, it was with some regret and a twinge of anger. This came as a surprise to me, as I'd always imagined religion was more important to my mother than it was it to my father. It shows you, doesn't it, how our childhood assumptions are so often faulty.

In Ft. Meade, Florida, I was part of a couple of church musicals – Music Machine and Down By theCreek Bank being the ones I remember best. It was my first taste of musical theater, which has been a lifelong love. I can still remember many of those songs by heart!

Erin, Irene, Kim
Christ Episcopal Church
early '80s
At Christ Episcopal Church in Covington, Louisiana, I sang in the choir and participated in the youth group. I had my first crush and broke my arm in the church parking lot. I was the first girl acolyte. One year we buried a time capsule, but by the time it came to unearth the capsule (which was such a great idea!), our family had already moved to another place.

While I was in high school, we attended Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Trussville, Alabama. That's where I got my first taste of public speaking – on the topic of “Faith” at Happening, a teen weekend retreat.

Throughout my childhood my most cherished friend-groups came from my churches, not my schools. At Holy Cross it seemed to me we were a group of misfit kids from Irondale and Pinson and Roebuck and Trussville... and somehow we all fit in at our church group. It helped that we had devoted, inspiring youth leaders – 2 couples: Mary and Murray and Karen and Roger. We rode in Mary and Murray's “Blue Goose” to Camp McDowell, which remains a favorite spot of mine to this day.

At Halloween we got in lots of trouble for attending a Judgement House at a Baptist church (instead of a regular haunted house, which had been the plan). This was a big deal because Baptists and Episcopalians disagree on their beliefs about hell and salvation, and some parents didn't want their kids exposed to those other ideas. To us, it was just entertainment. We loved being with one another. I'm so so grateful especially to Jennifer, Jeff, James, Anthony, Bucky, Tommy... and to my siblings Lynn and MicaJon, too. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through those years without the love and support from all of you.

Friday, February 8, 2019

"The New Puppy Promise" poem


Rosie
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Laura at Writing the World for Kids for Roundup! The big news around here is that we got a new puppy! Her name is Rosie. She's the second Aussie we've owned, and she is such a sweetheart. Among all the usual things, we've successfully introduced her to our daily walk (she went the entire way without a problem!); the stairs down to the dock (she was a little scared at first, but as soon as we put her little feet on the first stair, she was good to go); the lake (she put her paws in and got a drink; a boat ride (she let the wind ruffle her fur then curled up next to my feet for the rest of the ride). She's just an easy-going, friendly, doll of a puppy. I'm in love with her! And I want to do the best I can for her. And so, I give you "The New Puppy Promise."

The New Puppy Promise

Puppy, I promise to make a home for you
where you will always be safe.
I will be patient with you as you learn
where to do your business
and what not to chew.
I will play with you every day
and take you on grand adventures,
so you, too, can see the world.
I will listen to what your ears and tail
and eyes are telling me.
I will help you find your favorite spot
to be scratched.
I will let you be a dog who barks and romps,
but I will also take the time to show you
how to be courteous to me and to others.
Sometimes we may disagree.
Sometimes we may get mad
and hurt each other's feelings.
But Puppy, I promise to never give up on you.
Please don't give up on me!
I may be slow sometimes, but I will learn.
I will do what it takes to keep you healthy.
I will be generous with walks and hugs and treats.
Each day we'll discover new things together.
You will be mine, and I will be yours – forever.

- Irene Latham

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Some Thoughts About Home

front porch chalk message
Today's Spiritual Journey Thursday is on the topic of "home is where the heart is." Please visit Donna at Mainely Write for Roundup!

Nothing makes me appreciate home as much as taking a vacation. :) Of course home is mostly being with the people you love, not a place.

But it IS a place too.

When Paul and I started out, we lived in a house he bought before we met, in a Jefferson County neighborhood that was a little too close to the place where I went to high school.

Before we were even married, we bought 40 acres on Beaver Creek Mountain in St. Clair County and soon built a house in the center of it. Talk about secluded! And we had these marvelous mountain views... we lived there for 5 years before deciding to move for better schools and to be closer to Paul's work. It was such a tough thing to leave that place! The things we do for our kids...

our 20 year house
For 20 years we lived in the suburbs of north Shelby County, and yes, I was happy. Yes, we had so many good times! And it was a great house, for what (and where) it was. I mean, we raised a family there. And I wrote quite a few books there!

But no place has felt like home to me the way our current home does, here in rural Blount County.

"Love Shack" art,
complete with 2 blue birds (!),
a found treasure from Key West.
I love how it's a little wonky -
just like us!
At first, when we weren't living here full-time, we called it "the lake house." Then it became the "Love Nest." Which, yes, is cliche, but it fit! Sometimes we called it the "Love Shack," too, but that just sounds so, well... you know.

Since we've moved in, we've wanted to give the place a more formal name. I guess we have, sort-of. We (well mostly I) call it the Happy Rabbit Hideaway. (The house came with quite a few real and not-real rabbits.)

To carry on the naming thing, my studio is The Purple Horse Poetry Studio and Music Room. (The name traveled with us from the last house... turns out creative studios move right along with their creators.)

the Easter Porch 
Also, we have a slab of rock at the top of the bluff overlooking the lake that we call not so originally "The Overlook." And we have a deck/porch mid-way down the bluff we've just christened the "Easter Porch" -- because the first meal we shared with family there was on Easter of last year.


So anyway, maybe a home is not just the people you love, maybe it's a place you can name?

Thank you for reading! Looking forward to reading everyone else's thoughts about home!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: CHLORINE

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann.

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

In January I wrote about: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

Here are February's prompts: chair, chlorine, church, concert, cookbook, couch, dancing, desk, dessert, dining room table, diploma.

CHLORINE


My friend Kim was a competitive swimmer, which meant her family had a membership at a country club (in Mandeville, Louisiana). It also meant Kim was at that country club several times a week, swimming laps and learning breathing and diving techniques. 

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash
Once (when I was 11 or 12) she invited me to come to the pool with her – not for practice; just for fun. I'd never been to a country club, so I was enchanted by how fancy the building and the (indoor) pool was. I didn't even mind the thick, warm smell of chlorine, which made my chest feel heavy and like my lungs had to work extra-hard. I couldn't wait to try out the slide. First thing I did was climb the stairs, lower myself onto my belly, and push myself head-first down the slide. The heated water pressed against my eyelids and streamed through my hair. It was exhilarating – until my head scraped against the bottom of the pool. 

When I popped out of the water, my scalp was bleeding, and a clump of long blond hairs lay tangled in my fingers. The lifeguard rushed me to the first aid room where he applied pressure to stop the bleeding, antibiotic ointment to prevent infection, and dry ice to diminish the swelling. Kim stayed with me the whole time, and we were already concocting the funny story we would tell my parents. But as the life guard pressed the dry ice pack to my injury, the plastic busted. My breath caught and I held back a scream as the dry ice leaked out and burned my skin. “I just want to go home,” I cried. I recovered fine, but I never swam again at Kim's pool. 

So, kids, if you're reading this: please don't go down a pool slide headfirst!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Exploring the Florida Keys

The last time I visited the Keys I was a child. The biggest thing I remember is the Seven Mile Bridge -- I thought that bridge would never end!

This time I traveled with my Best Traveling Companion Ever (aka Paul). We flew into Miami, rented a car, and stayed in a waterfront home on Grassy Key (north end of Marathon in the Middle Keys) so that we could adventure both north and south from there. Also, we managed to miss the snow scare in Alabama, so our timing couldn't have been better!

We took an airboat tour (courtesy of Gator Park) of the Everglades National Park. We saw gators, turtles, and all kinds of birds!

We saw so many gorgeous sunsets... many right from our rental home's back door.


We learned about dolphin rescue at Dolphin Research Center, where they provide forever homes for animals in need -- animals who could not survive in the wild. It was touching to hear the way the trainers and all the employees cared about and were completely devoted to these dolphins and sea lions. I loved hearing about all of the different personalities. This is a nonprofit organization doing good work for the world.

We toured Key West. (Of course!) It made me feel close to my father, who traveled to Key West not long before he died. I loved thinking of us seeing the same things, walking the same pathways.

We met Hemingway's (55) cats at his former home - many of the cats are polydactyl (six-toed!).
Humphrey Bogart (I think!
All the cats are named after
movie stars from the
Golden Age of Hollywood.)

We ate LOTS of seafood... and a little key lime pie (of course!). Our favorite restaurants: Green Turtle Inn in Islamorada and Burdine's in Marathon.

Also: these key lime muffins from Hariette's in Key Largo... almost worth the trip all by themselves! (And so good that Paul actually ate his dessert first, which, if you know Paul, is saying something! :)

key lime muffin

And best of all? We took a sea plane out to Dry Tortugas National Park, where we explored Fort Jefferson, admired a gazillion shells, spotted so many birds, and dipped our toes in that glorious turquoise water.

It was a wonderful trip, but boy is good to be home!

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Butterfly Hours Memoir Project: CHAIR

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Tabatha (whose posts alwaysalways inspire me!) at The Opposite of Indifference for Roundup. Is it really February?? 

For 2019 I'm running a year-long series on my blog in which I share my responses to the writing assignment prompts found in THE BUTTERLY HOURS by Patty Dann. Thank you, friends, for reading and responding! You're helping me keep going. :)

I welcome you to join me, if you like! I've divided the prompts by month, and the plan is to respond to 3 (or so) a week. For some of these I may write poems, for others prose. The important thing is to mine my memory. Who knows where this exploration will lead?

In January I wrote about: apron, bar, basketball, bed, bicycle, birthday, boat, broom, button, cake, car.

Here are February's prompts: chair, chlorine, church, concert, cookbook, couch, dancing, desk, dessert, dining room table, diploma.

CHAIR

First: a poem from ARTSPEAK! 2015:

 This Old Chair
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- after “Sewing Chair” by Dorothy Johnson

Me, wait
for you?

That's not
all I do.

Turn me
upside down

and you'll
find proof:

I am also
Spider's

roof.

- Irene Latham


... and now today's writing:
I was a picky eater as a child. Maybe this wouldn't have been a big deal in some families, but in mine the rule was “clean your plate.” There were times when I couldn't – or wouldn't – clean my plate. (Word choice there is completely dependent upon whether you were asking me or my mom!) On those nights, while my siblings played board games or watched a family movie, I spent the evening hours sitting at the kitchen table staring at the green beans (or whatever) on my plate. On those nights the hard ladder-backed kitchen chair became a boat or cave or spaceship. I'd push the chair back from the table and bring my knees up to my chest – a habit I still have today. I imagined and dreamed my way through those awful hours. Eventually the chair would become a chair again, harder than ever, so I would quickly stuff those green beans into my cheeks and dash for the bathroom, where I would spit them into the toilet.
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For those of you out there who may be parenting picky eaters, I can tell you that this practice did NOT help me learn to love my vegetables. It DID make me super-compassionate when it came to raising my own picky eaters! The “clean your plate” rule was not one we chose to continue. And these days I'll eat pretty much anything – though I still don't lovelovelove green beans. :)

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Finally, a poem that appears in my out-of-print book of poems for adults THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS, which includes a number of ekphrastic poems. Now you know exactly where this one comes from... and how poetry is often a blend of fact and imagination.


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Alligator Pears in a Basket
after the painting by Georgia O’Keefe

Eat, his mother said. You must
clean your plate. He crossed
his arms and clamped his teeth.
Sat at the table for hours.

By bedtime his mother’s eyes
blazed. You can’t make me,
the boy said, and the pears
came alive, their jaws snapping,
their leathery skin slapping
against his tender cheek.

And then they all went to bed:
the pears, the plate, the mother
and finally, the boy. His eyes
half-closed, ever watchful.

- Irene Latham