Friday, March 29, 2024

Hoe Cakes (Poem + Recipe)

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit terrific Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for Roundup.

Here we are on the eve of National Poetry! I love this time of year. Thanks to Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup for including a roundup of National Poetry Month inspiring!

I will have much to share with you next week, when Poetry Roundup is here...and the Progressive Poem is here...and my public poetry project to which so many of you have contributed will be up and running!

Here's a sneak peak of some of the bounty that has arrived in my mailbox these past weeks. (Those arriving in the past few days not assured, if you've heard from me, I do have your poems!! YAY!) Poems from 25 poets across the US and Australia and Canada, too! You poets are AWESOME. I'll have pics for you next week of the finished project.

In other news, I'm honored THE MUSEUM ON THE MOON was named a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book. Woohoo! So many congratulations to Georgia Heard and Rebecca Kai Dotlich for the (beautiful) winning title WELCOME TO THE WONDER HOUSE and to Chris Harris whose MY HEAD HAS A BELLYACHE also earned an Honor. Much gratitude to the committee. Mwah! And of course, to Lee, who did (and does!) so much to promote children's poetry. I know he's up there smiling.

I have Rose Cappelli to thank for this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART.  Thanks, Rose!

Along with her poems for the bulletin board, she sent me a card featuring art by Horace Pippin

Fun fact: Rose was one of the co-authors of the teaching guide for the picture book biography of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illus. by Melissa Sweet called A Splash of Red: the Life and Art of Horace Pippin. 

Right away I found several of Horace's pieces that I knew I wanted to write after. Here is the first one, which features a special childhood memory...and the title is a nod to a favorite of mine: "I Go Back to May 1937" by Sharon Olds.

I Go Back to Hoe Cakes

Sitting on a stool
in Grandma's cozy
pine-cabinet kitchen

watching her sun-worn hands
add warm water and salt
to Hoover's cornmeal

how she'd pat the dough
with those long
Florida pioneer fingers

ease it into the oil-slick
of that old iron skillet

my tongue somersaulting
as it sizzled and browned—

Is it ready yet?

Grandma's grin
as she lifts it with a spatula,
flips it onto a plate

where it cools for a quick minute
then Grandma pulls
off a little piece

just for me.

- Irene Latham

And now for the recipe! You'll find all sorts of hoe cake recipes online, but none of them are the one I grew up with. So I decided I should include the recipe in this post. 

First of all, you have to have the right kind of cornmeal, which is Hoover's fine-sifted white corn meal. 

Whenever any of our family members are visiting the Florida panhandle, we always stop in at the Piggly Wiggly in Port St. Joe and pick up a couple of bags. (You can now also order them on Amazon, but that's not nearly as much fun!)

The recipe is just three simple ingredients: corn meal, water, and salt. (Do NOT forget the salt.) My Grandma used the recipe on the back of the bag, though she didn't ever measure anything. She was an eyeballer (as am I!). The dough should resemble pancake batter in thickness. Here's the official recipe on the bag...and our family's recipe typewritten for you. Also, please find a couple of pics below. (Note: The bag calls it all-one-word "Hoecake." Our family has always made it two words: "Hoe Cake.")

Hoe Cake (Dykes Family/Florida Panhandle Style)

1 cup Hoover's corn meal
1 cup boiling water or milk (we never used milk; and the water can just be hot water from the tap)
3/4 tsp. salt
iron skillet (seriously: if you don't yet cook with iron, you must get yourself a good, aged skillet from a family member or thrift store. This hoe cake will not turn out right in any other kind of skillet.)

Mix all ingredients.
Let it sit a minute. (It will expand.)
Heat oil in an iron skillet (medium-high).
Pour in batter.
Let cook until brown on one side (if you try to turn it too soon, it will crumble; it'll test your patience, but you have to wait for always takes longer than I think it should! 

When you can slide my spatula under the whole cake without it scrambling, you'll know it's ready to turn!)

Brown it on the other side. (It may get a little black in places. That's okay! More iron for you!)

Remove from skillet and let drain/cool on a plate lined with paper towel.


p.s. Had to share this:

from my 2013 scrapbook!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Dream Poems

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit radiant Rose at Imagine the Possibilities for Roundup.

This week I started teaching Haiku workshops for Friends of the Locust Fork River. (For the first time ever, their annual contest will include poetry!) And since poetry is for all ages, I shared time this week at our local Senior Center and also with 7th and 9th grade biology students at Locust Fork High School. I've got a couple more sessions in the coming weeks.Yay!

Something I've been thinking about lately is how poetry is tied to dreams. I have oft shared the book From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler. (Sure, the subtitle says "fiction" but the book applies to poetry as well!) And I myself have written and shared quite a few dream poems here at Live Your Poem:

A Dream of Sheep

What Tiger Dreams

Writing Down a Dream

This Poem is a Dream

A Dream of Yellow

A Dream of Red

Garden Rabbit's Dream

Dream with Three Hearts

A Dream of Wheat

October Dreams

A Dream of Winter

Fishing in Spring (Life is But a Dream)

And today for this week's installment of ArtSpeak: FOLK ART, I've got a (dreamy) piece by Joseph Garlock, who was a Russian immigrant-turned-American-artist. Also, while researching for this poem, I found this great article on shepherding (written by a shepherd). Thanks so much for reading!

So Says the Shepherd of Dreams

When sheep
descend from sky
desert throws bouquets
at their feet

and prickly cacti
(usually so solemn)
lift their arms
welcome, welcome!

- Irene Latham

Friday, March 15, 2024

Celebrating LEAFY LANDMARKS with Michelle Schaub

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit terrific Tanita at fiction, instead of lies for Roundup. 
A couple of reminders: 1) I'm accepting YOUR poems for inclusion in my Poem in Your Pocket public art project through the end of the month! Details here. 
 So many thanks to those who have already sent me poems...Blount County, Alabama, is going to be awash in poetry!! 2)I got a notice from canva that I just created my 500th project! Y'all! I do love me some canva. :)

Today I'm excited to welcome Michelle Schaub today to Live Your Poem, in celebration of her "tree book," LEAFY LANDMARKS: TRAVELS WITH TREES by Michelle Schaub, illus. by Anne Lambelet, brought to us by the good folks at Sleeping Bear Press. Each spread features a poem and informational text about the tree. Lovely!

One of my favorite poems is the one about Methuselah, located in Inyo National Forest (California). I love "advice" poems!

Advice from an Ancient
by Michelle Schaub

Dear Sprout,

take a look about.
Life is no pruned arbor here.
This arid, barren mountainside
will toughen up your tender hide.
Wind and ice don't play nice.
You'll be mangled, tangled, tattered
bent and battered.
You'll grow haggard and resistant.
And if you are persistent,
in a thousand years or so
you'll come to be
a wizened, wise survivor
just like me.

Old Bristlecone

And now, here's Michelle, responding to three simple prompts about LEAFY LANDMARKS!

Fresh: Layers are important in a children’s poetry collection. I know this. As I worked on Leafy Landmarks, I tried to incorporate intriguing layers. Poetry: I wrote the poems in a variety of different forms. Nature: I celebrated the importance of trees to our planet. History: I shared each tree’s connection to a historical moment. Yes, my collection had layers. But something was missing: the fresh story that would propel the poems forward and give the collection heart. Then, as I was looking over some photographs of the trees taken during my on-site research, I recalled the fun my family and I had while trekking to find these landmarks. Our “tree travels” had brought us closer together, as family adventures often do. And there was my final layer, the one with momentum and heart, the fresh angle I needed to set this collection apart: a family road trip across the country to discover Leafy Landmarks: Travels with Trees.

Difficult: Speaking of road trips, Leafy Landmarks has had a long, winding journey with many roadblocks and detours. I first started working on Leafy Landmarks in 2007, when I visited my local arboretum and noticed a plaque beneath a stately oak. The plaque explained that the oak had once been a gathering place for the Potawatomi people. I began researching the histories of other trees. I collected these tree stories in a nonfiction, prose manuscript and send it out. Eventually, after several rejections, a publisher expressed interest. They wanted to publish the book with photographs of the trees to accompany my text. While I was eager to be published, the direction of the project didn’t feel right. I envisioned the story with vibrant illustrations. After some difficult soul searching, I put on my turn signal and exited. My “tree book,” gathered dust in my manuscript garage for several years. In the meantime, I started writing poetry and honing my poetic voice. I decided to revisit the “tree book” as a poetry collection. Lots of rejection. A few nibbles. One publishing house offered a contract and then didn’t follow through. (This was the lowest valley on the book’s journey.) Detour: I re-mapped the collection as a road trip. More rejections. I was just about to cut the ignition for good when I signed with my current agent, Lisa Amstutz. Lisa really liked my “tree book” and wanted to take it for a submission spin. The book caught the eye of Barb McNally at Sleeping Bear, who made an offer. Leafy Landmarks’ 18-year ride has reinforced what I’ve heard so often on my publishing journey: the race does not go to the swift, but those with patience and persistence to endure.

Delicious: Anne Lambelet’s illustrations are simple scrumptious! I love how she weaves together the modern story of the family on a road trip with the historical events surrounding the trees. On each spread, Anne captures the vibrant personality of these leafy landmarks. Through Anne’s art, their stories nearly jump off the page.

Thank you, Michelle! So many congratulations!!!

For those who enjoy Book Buddies (as I do!), a lovely companion to this book would be THE WITNESS TREES: HISTORIC MOMENTS AND THE TREES WHO WATCHED THEM HAPPEN by Ryan van Cleave, illus. by Dom Dom (Bushel & Peck Books).

And now for today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem! I've been learning about Bessie Nickens (1906-2004) from a lovely article by Kevin Grogan in the Spring 2003 edition of Folk Art Messenger. 

In addition to her paintings, Bessie also wrote a book called Walking the Log: Memories of a Southern Childhood (Rizzoli International Publications, 1994). In an effort to honor Bessie's multiple modes of creativity, and the creative spirit she and I (and you!) totally have in common, I decided to go with a Golden Shovel poem, featuring one of her quotes. Thanks so much for reading!

You Should Know (Poem for My Friend Who May Have Forgotten)

I wake before dawn sometimes,

pull out my paints and brush. When

my hand starts moving, I

simply follow it. Sometimes I sit

all day, never setting the brush down,

coaxing colors, asking my memories to

swirl and twirl into shapes made of paint.

If you call and I don't answer, it's because I

am spilling stories onto the page. Don't

worry, I'm not lost or found. Do you know

what that feels like? If you're nodding, yes, exactly,

then you should stop reading this poem, get to what's

really important: creating! Doesn't matter who's coming

or how dirty the floor. Get those stories out!

- Irene Latham

Friday, March 8, 2024

Brothers poem

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Laura Purdie Salas for Roundup.

with 3 SC Librarians of the Year (l-r):
Pamela Williams, Angela Durham,
& Lonie Lewis (2024 winner!)
Shout out to South Carolina educators! Charles and I had so much fun meeting folks and talking books with you at South Carolina Association of School Librarians in Columbia. Thank you for inviting us.

Writer-friends: don't miss my post over at Smack Dab in the Middle about How to Rebound from Rejection. (This writing biz can be so tough sometimes!)

the boys, the girls, & MJ
Today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem is about brothers. I have three brothers—two older and one (adorable) younger. Also, a sweet sister. Lucky, lucky me! My two older brothers were called "the boys," and me and my sister were "the girls." Little brother MJ was and always will be in a category all by himself.

As much as we all want the story of the loving, protective brothers, that wasn't my experience. There were some really rough times with "the boys." My poem could have been much much darker. And I know I'm not the only one: there are children in the world who have similar experiences. We don't get to choose our siblings, and parents don't always know how to protect children from each other. So I wanted my poem to share that truth, but in a lighter way.

I do credit my brothers for helping make me the strong, compassionate person I am today. They also helped prepare me for raising three boys. And they are still teaching me about acceptance and forgiveness.

The artist is another Alabamian, Charlie Lucas. Thanks so much for reading.


A storm is coming—
a storm called “the boys.”
They tease
and they taunt.
They wreck all my toys.

Maybe they're fine individuals,
just not when they're together.
Day darkens,
sky rumbles and stirs.
Anyone can predict this weather!

When the boys come around,
I take cover in my room.
I may be a streak of lightning;
but they are all thunder:
boom boom BOOM!

A storm is coming.
It comes everyday.
Sure, blizzards eventually blow over.
But Mom says, like it or not,
the boys are here to stay.

- Irene Latham

Friday, March 1, 2024

Moose in Winter

camellias from our yard!
 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Linda at TeacherDance for Roundup.

If you haven't had a chance, I invite you to read my Poetry from Daily Life column. Many thanks to David Harrison for including me!

Now, a reminder: I'd love to feature your poems in my public poetry project! Details here.

Also, Charles and I are grateful and excited about folks signing up for our Highlights Working Retreat for Poets June 23-26. Please join us!

Today's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART is after a piece by Vollis Simpson.

 Thank you, Kay McGriff for telling me about Vollis! 

There's even a whirligig park in Wilson, North Carolina featuring Vollis' whirligigs. (Yes, I will be visiting.) 

And if you want to incorporate whirligigs into your STEAM day, check out this lesson plan!

In researching Vollis, I stumbled upon a publication I must get: The Folk Messenger! It's a benefit of membership to the Folk Art Society of America. Yes, please!

I was drawn to the moose in this whirligig, I think, because we don't have moose in these parts. Deer, yes. Lots of deer! But moose are SO HUGE! They definitely bring to mind places like Minnesota and Canada, the North Woods I've read about in so many Gary Paulsen books. Thanks so much for reading!

Moose in Winter

You'll know him by his crown of bone—
and how he enjoys being alone.

He plods across morning—cold, stark—
ripping tender strips of willow bark.

A king's feast! And when twilight falls
he beds against warm-snow walls.

Moon curtsies, and all the stars bellow.
(They rather like this majestic fellow.)

- Irene Latham