Friday, August 28, 2020

Exploring "Certainty" with Margaret B. Ingraham

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup. 

I'm away from my desk, but I'm thinking of all you wonderful Poetry Friday friends! Can you believe we've nearly made it to September?!

I want to invite you to check out Georgia Heard's latest virtual poetry workshop offerings at The Poet's Studio. What a fabulous learning opportunity!

And if you're looking for this week's ArtSpeak! RED poem, I posted it yesterday, it's after a Picasso piece called "A Red Skirt."

Also, I'm delighted to introduce to you a new-to-me poet Margaret B. Ingraham, author of Exploring this Terrain: Poems (Paraclete Press, 2020).  Margaret was kind enough to respond to a few simple prompts, and also to share a gorgeous and timely poem from her new book. We'll start with the poem, and then hear from Margaret herself.

by Margaret B. Ingraham

Certain things my mother knew
and she would not forget them:
like the scent magnolias take
when the sun has pressed
its full weight down inside
the cup of blossom long enough
to spring the hinges
of every creamy petal
and turn each one to chamois cloth,
beige and soft;
or the sunset glow
of tufted titmouse breast;
or mystery of kestrel's flight
soaring to crescendo height when
still wings dangle dangerously
on the precipice of fickle breeze.

Mother lived to open up the world to us
in things that always closed
or hid or ebbed away:
like frothy lace the small waves
tool along the sand at turn of tide;
or caddis fly's empty case
clinging to the smooth flat bell
of a stone in running shallows;
or tender young mimosa leaves curling
to put themselves to sleep
when we'd brush our tiny palms
across the smallest fronds.
These were the things, my mother said,
that nature always ordered
and on which we could depend.

Yesterday I wandered off
the well-marked trail
lured by the hope of hearing
low lamentations of the mourning dove
or distinct call of black-capped chickadee,
tones that float effortlessly
from small birds' quivering throats.
Instead the clearest sound I heard
was one I'd thought endangered long ago:
arduous and heavy-headed hammering
only a pileated woodpecker makes
when it has found the restive beetle
burrowing down inside a dying trunk.

This, of course, was part of what she knew:
some things open,
others close,
and certain things abide.


Isn't that a beautiful reminder of what nature can give us in the midst of whatever turmoil we're experiencing?

And, now... Welcome, Margaret!

The delicious:

MI: When I hear or see the word “delicious” I naturally think first of some of my favorite foods, but the addition of the definite article “the” broadens my perspective a bit – particularly as it relates to Exploring this Terrain specifically and to my poetry generally. Unlike many other poets I know, I never determine in advance what I am going to write about. Rather, I respond to what I encounter and then attempt to capture it and to share it through language. “O taste and see,” declared the psalmist and great poet David, and that is what I endeavor to do as I experience life. And to “taste and see,” I want to add “hear and smell and touch”…because we humans are constantly reacting to things happening around us that engage some or all of those senses, whether we are aware of it or not. My work as a poet is to bring attention to that, I guess. My most sincere hope was and is that the reader will savor with me the marvelous and unique flavor that can be found in every moment, image, sound that I have endeavored to capture and convey through words. The psalmist completes his line with the statement “the Lord is good.” I believe that too and that that “goodness” is demonstrated in all of creation.

Over the course of my writing career lots of folks have characterized me as a nature poet. I am delighted to accept the designation; but my subject matter and scope of vision are broader than that, I think. I prefer to call what others refer to as nature, creation. All of my poetry then explores one of the various and distinct terrains of creation that define and inform our lives. My book is divided into seven sections, and each of those sections examines a distinct type of terrain – some defined by the typography of the natural, physical world and some by those less concrete, but no less real, realms of relationship, memory, heart and spirit. My hope is that my poems makes these delicious for the reader. A food we call delicious may be sweet or sour, tangy or subtle, hot or mild; similarly, what makes a poem delicious can be as broad-ranging as that.

The difficult:

MI: Because Exploring this Terrain is a collection containing work created over a period of years rather a volume concentrating on a single theme, selecting the poems to include or to omit was a bit of a challenge. Once I’d made those selections deciding in which particular section of the book each of the 70 poems belonged was also sometimes a difficult decision. I knew that where I placed the poem essentially signaled to the observant reader what I thought the poem was “about.” But poems, like life itself, are complex and multi-faceted. A number of the poems could have been placed logically or comfortably in more than one section. But by going back in my head not just to the writing of the poem but more importantly to the experience that inspired it, I was able to resolve the dilemma.

The most difficult of the difficulties (whew!) I routinely encounter as a poet is finding the right – or should I say best -- last line with which to conclude the poem. I am not exactly sure why this is the case, except that the experience or realization enshrined in a poem never really ends for me. It does for the reader, however, and in that context I often believe that the last line is the most important in a poem.

Of course it can be argued honestly that the first line is of paramount importance because it is largely responsible for engaging the reader. English professors often congenially squabble about the greatest first lines in various literary genres. As interesting and stimulating as that

discussion can be, I choose to avoid it. And I don’t think about my own opening lines that much either – because I know that they are most often “given” to me. I don’t mean this is a mystical or “woo-woo” way as some of my friends would characterize it. The first lines of my poems generally come as a simple gift, the consequence and reward of attentiveness to the world around. They are usually triggered by something auditory (like a bird’s song) or visual (like the way the light moves or casts a particular shadow). Unfortunately, those first lines are usually fleeting as well. If I don’t jot them down almost immediately, they vanish as surely as the fog. That is the beginning of the act of writing a poem for me, but only the beginning. What the first line or lines demand of me then are days of recollection and concentration, often hours of research, weeks and sometimes even years of revision before I am ready to present the piece to an audience. So the process can be difficult; but it is a difficulty I embrace because, for me at least, the exploration always leads to discovery and blessing.

The unexpected:

MI: In the context of COVID-19, “the great unexpected,” most everything else that was unanticipated seems to pale. Your question, however, was specifically focused on the unexpected in relation to my book, so I will confine my answer to that. There was no how-to manual for launching a new book in a pandemic, and all the conventional means of reaching readers that I’d scheduled– like a launch, book talks and signings, in-person events – had to be scuttled. Connecting with readers face-to-face has always been especially meaningful for me and I do miss it. But I would never have anticipated how creative and united the entire literary community, in all its several roles, would be. Your invitation to be part of your Poetry Friday blog is just one example of the happily unexpected opportunities and support I have received. There was a virtual book launch on You Tube produced by my publisher Paraclete Press that allowed me to engage with folks I otherwise would not reach. There was Poetkind Podcast and there have been other virtual and online readings. During the podcast interview the host Susan Mulder asked, “How can you read poetry during a pandemic, at a time like this?” Reflexively I responded, hearing my own voice before I was even aware that I was speaking: “How can you not read poetry at a time like this?” That was unexpected. But I stand by those words. I thank you for the opportunity to pose and answer that question here and to share one of my poems with your readers. You selected it, of course, and I am pleased with your pick. Its entitled “Certainty,” and if we ever need to consider and hold fast to that which is certain, it is at a time such as this.

Anything else?

MI: Yes. Thank you, Irene, for affirming through this Poetry Friday blog the proposition that poetry does and must have an important place in this uncertain world of coronavirus. I am honored to have been invited into this space and given the opportunity to share what I am sure will be an unfamiliar poem to most of your readers.

During this strange time, and after it has passed, may we all be attentive to and grateful for the certain things that abide.


So many thanks to Margaret, and to Rachel at Paraclete Press, for reaching out to me about this book. I love sharing beautiful poetry books with others!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

ArtSpeak: RED poem "Red Skirt"

 Today's ArtSpeak: RED poem is the first in a small grouping of Picasso art pieces I'll be responding to, all featuring the color red. It makes me long for a red skirt! Perhaps I will make one ?? I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, thank you so much for reading!

Red Skirt

A red skirt
doesn't stop
the hurt

but it does fluff
and swaddle,

creates a nest
for me
to move past
the mad --

or at least
a space
to sit and rest.

- Irene Latham

Friday, August 21, 2020

ArtSpeak! RED poem "Milkmaid's Lament"

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Ramona at Pleasures from the Page for Roundup. 

Speaking of Ramona... this week she sent me a link to a live presentation (coming Aug. 23 - here is the link) of cellist Wendy Sutter playing Bach's Six Solo Cello Suites. So sweet, and so lovely! (Thank you, Ramona!) 

And... in a serendipitous twist, I had just been practicing the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite 1 when I received Ramona's text. :) And that re

Me-n-Lady Godiva
minded me that I haven't updated my cello progress here in a while. It's been FIVE YEARS since I started taking lessons! And yes, currently I am working on Bach's Suite 1 as well as Suzuki Book 7. It's an absolute dream to be able to play these pieces... my life continues to be enriched by my cello practice, and I expect to be taking lessons for another five years... and then... who knows??

My poem this week features another woman performing a mundane task (like Vermeer's Lacemaker from a few weeks ago)... and imagines her feelings about this task. I ended up playing with repetition in the poem, too, because these daily tasks ARE repetitive. Thank you for reading!

Milkmaid's Lament

Someone must mind the milk –
I do not mind that it's me.

I've warmed to the task
of sorting froth-curd-cream

from milk warmed
by blood and breathing.

Morning's breathing
sounds like a sleepy baby's sigh

as milk spills from the russet jug.
I want to hug this gentle moment,

but it spills into the next
       and the next        and the next

without any mind of me at all.

- Irene Latham

Friday, August 14, 2020

Grasping the Mysteries of Poetry, Math, and Science with Jeannine Atkins

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone for Roundup. 

I am super excited because today one of my favorite favorites Jeannine Atkins is here to talk about her latest verse novel Grasping Mysteries: Girls Who Loved Math (Atheneum, 2020), which is earning beautiful reviews and offers a lovely follow-up to Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science.

Publisher's description:

After a childhood spent looking up at the stars, Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet and to earn a salary for scientific research. Florence Nightingale was a trailblazing nurse whose work reformed hospitals and one of the founders of the field of medical statistics. The first female electrical engineer, Hertha Marks Ayrton registered twenty-six patents for her inventions.

Marie Tharp helped create the first map of the entire ocean floor, which helped scientists understand our subaquatic world and suggested how the continents shifted. A mathematical prodigy, Katherine Johnson calculated trajectories and launch windows for many NASA projects including the Apollo 11 mission. Edna Lee Paisano, a citizen of the Nez Perce Nation, was the first Native American to work full time for the Census Bureau, overseeing a large increase in American Indian and Alaskan Native representation. And Vera Rubin studied more than two hundred galaxies and found the first strong evidence for dark matter.

Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates seven remarkable women who used math as their key to explore the mysteries of the universe and grew up to do innovative work that changed the world.

Welcome, Jeannine!

JA: Thank you for the three questions, Irene. My favorite number, because of the bears, blind mice, musketeers, and the triangles of beginnings, middles, and ends.

The delicious 

JA: Looking back from when a book is ready to go into the world, it all seems delicious. But I’ll get to the more truthful part with your next question. For me, the small things within big stories are what make my mouth water. I can read through many generalizations without wanting to sit up straight, but when I run across something like doctors calling Florence Nightingale the Lady with a Hammer, or the names of Marie Tharp’s poodles or the linoleum flooring shop where Vera Rubin got a free cardboard tube to construct a telescope with her father, I feel as if I’ve been invited into a life. I need to get back to the math behind discoveries, but often the small things help me shape a poem.

The difficult