Friday, April 26, 2024

Haiku Journeys of One Kind and Another

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure and visit Ruth and her dream of Haiti at There is no such thing as a godforsaken town for Roundup.

Whew, what a National Poetry Month it's been! And it's not over yet...I travel today for a conference tomorrow...and then...MAY!!!

By the way, it has come to my attention that no one has received my annual NPM Live Your Poem postcard. I sent them out the first week of April, but they are LOST, I tell you. LOST! (I've been told several things...apparently there are big problems at the Birmingham USPS distribution center. I don't know, because I've mailed other things this month that made their destinations...but nary a postcard!) Sigh. Maybe they will find you eventually... I hope so.

Today I'm excited to share about Climbing the Volcano: A Journey in Haiku by Curtis Manley, illus. by Jennifer Mann (Neal Porter/Holiday House, 2024). It's a story of family's hike up South Sister Volcano in Oregon told in fifty haiku.

Here's the opening haiku:

dormant volcano—

but at sunrise each day

it blazes

Along the way, the child-narrator shares about encounters with other people are on the trail; change of temperatures; mosquitoes!; other animal encounters (marmot, dogs, owl, butterfly..); adventures at the summit (snowballs, anyone?); sliding down; and looking back up the mountain in wonder.

One of my favorite middle-of-the-book haiku:


the trail is under the snow


The book ends with a ends with a great question... you'll have to read it to find out what! And back matter includes info about South Sister Volcano, Geology of the Cascade Mountain Range; What to bring to climb a mountain; A little bit about haiku; and more info about the Living things mentioned in the haiku (flora and fauna).

Check it out! It's a winner.

Perhaps inspired by Climbing the Volcano, this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART is a haiku...or rather, THREE haiku! This art by Mose Tolliver just speaks to me, I guess...I couldn't decide which one to post, so I offer you all three. :) Thanks so much for reading!

Night performs secret

mysteries—fire where there was

no flame before

- Irene Latham

Full moon large and low

crimson flame ignites the stars

night garden

- Irene Latham

My longing stretches

crimson across dark mountains—

where are you moon?

- Irene Latham

Friday, April 19, 2024

Animals in Pants, Animals in Dreams (poems!)

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit innovative Heidi at my juicy little universe for Roundup. Her WhisperShout writing workshop and magazine for young writers sound amazing!

Margaret Simon & Irene Latham
Last week it was my pleasure to hang out and present with Margaret Simon at the Kaigler Book Festival at USM (home of the amazing deGrummond Children's Collection!). It was so great to see attendees writing poems in our session!! I made so many new friends and got to catch up with folks I haven't seen since before covid...good books, good times (as Lee Bennett Hopkins would say!).

If you've been thinking of joining Charles and me at Highlights this summer for a Working Retreat June 23-26, NOW is the time to sign up! Just a few slots left...AND we've added a special guest: Carter Hasegawa, editor at Candlewick, who has worked with quite a few poets on quite a few poetry books! We are SO EXCITED about all we will surely learn from him!

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Suzy Levinson, author of ANIMALS IN PANTS (illus. by Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell, published by Abrams) This book charmed the pants off of many of us last year, and continues to enchant! Suzy is a wonder, and I'm excited she has another poetry book more about that below! 

Today she's responding to a few prompts in relation to her experience with ANIMALS IN PANTS.

Welcome, Suzy!


ANIMALS IN PANTS probably wouldn’t exist if pantoums weren’t so impossible to write.

I love to write verse that sounds loose and conversational but actually falls neatly within the strict parameters of meter and rhyme scheme. Those parameters always seem to free me up, creatively. So logic would suggest that I’d enjoy adding even more parameters by using traditional forms like sonnets, villanelles, or pantoums, right? Wrong. The extra rules that come with certain forms break my brain a bit, and I often wind up struggling to keep it all sounding natural and fun.

Which brings me to late 2016: I was so frustrated with my progress on a pantoum that I decided to scrap it entirely and invent my own poetic form instead. My new form was called a “pantaloon” (take that, pantoum!), and the only rule was it had to be about animals in pants. Much easier!

Fun fact: the original title of this collection was PANTALOONS. The publisher thought (quite rightly) that it might be confusing from a marketing standpoint, so we changed it. But my agent and I still secretly call it PANTALOONS and I’m sure we’ll never stop.

I wrote the first poem of this collection, “Cat-itude,” long before I knew there was going to be a collection at all. The piece was an assignment for a writing class. Our homework prompt was to “choose two incongruous things and find a way to connect them.” This really resonated with me! So much so that I’ve returned to it again and again over the years, whenever I’m at a loss for ideas. Nothing shakes up my imagination and produces fresh material like taking two things that don’t belong together and smushing them together anyway.

So with “Cat-itude,” I connected a cat with pants. It was so fun that after the whole pantoum debacle (see above, ha), I decided to keep the ball rolling, writing the “pantaloons” that eventually became ANIMALS IN PANTS. And a while later (after buying my nephew a very strange-looking set of dinosaur-head cars for his birthday), I tried connecting dinos with cars, and boom: my second collection, DINOS THAT DRIVE, is coming out next year!

True story: at lunch with my agent a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a new idea, but I wasn’t sure if I should pursue it. I was concerned because I’d be using the same old prompt again, connecting two incongruous things, and maybe that would make the project too similar to ANIMALS IN PANTS and DINOS THAT DRIVE. My extremely patient agent looked at me for a second, then said, “But Suzy, you realize that those are your two books that have…um…sold?”

Long story short, it’s a great prompt. It’s fresh, it’s happening, and everyone should try it!


One of the sweetest parts about writing ANIMALS IN PANTS was discovering that it was just so me.

A few years back, when I first started writing in earnest, I didn’t know I was a children’s writer, or even a poet. I experimented with lots of different genres. Nothing clicked into place. People would say, “Write what you know!” To which I’d say, “NO, THANKS.” Because what did I know, exactly? I knew I’d recently 
quit acting (sad), in part due to health issues (depressing), which left me with little to focus on besides a boring day job (yuck). Why would I want to write about any of that?

And yet…

If I were to step in a time machine, zoom back to the ’80s, and tell the kid version of myself that I’d recently written a funny poetry collection called ANIMALS IN PANTS, Young Me would probably shrug and say, “Well, yeah, of course. You’re writing what you know. What else would you be doing?”

Writing’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s less about examining the here and now, and more about unearthing the person I’ve always been—that kid who grew up on Muppets and dad jokes and silly jingles and anthropomorphizing stuff. That’s what I really know, deep down. So when I write, I dig up weird little forgotten bits of myself, mix them together, and use them to pave a strange new path.

That’s what I did with this collection, and everything finally clicked into place.
Thank you, Suzy! I am kind of in love with that "try smashing two incongruous things together" advice!

And now, I offer you this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem, after another piece by Alabama contemporary self-taught artist Trés Taylor. Don't miss my first poem after Trés' work here! You can meet Tres and Helene in Uniontown, Alabama, on May 5th when they will be planting sunflowers! (I wish I could go...sigh...but I will be celloing!)

This poem is an "Abracadabra," which uses a the rhyme scheme abacadaba (which is "Abracadabra" without the r's!) Click to read my first Abracadabra poem "Mule Ringing the Doorbell of Heaven." Thanks so much for reading!

Casting for Dreams

Before I drift
to sleep
I lift
my flute,
set my tune adrift—
Come cat,
come chimney swift!

For the path is cold-long-steep
and fellowship is the finest gift.

- Irene Latham

Friday, April 12, 2024

Bless This Earth, Catch This Light (poems!)


Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit wonderful Jone Rush Maculloch for Roundup.

Today I am excited and delighted to welcome co-anthologists June Cotner and Nancy Tupper Ling to share about their newest project BLESS THIS EARTH, illus. by Keum Jin Song, brought to us by Convergent. Divided into five chapters, young readers, ages 3-7, are invited to explore a colorful world filled with musical rainforests, majestic birds, sea creatures, stars, and much more!

June Cotner
is the author of almost forty books, including the bestsellers Graces, Bedside Prayers, and House Blessings. Her books altogether have sold more than one million copies. Cotner has appeared on national television and radio programs and her books have been featured in many national publications, including USA Today, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman’s Day, and Family Circle. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their rescue dog, a Border Collie/Corgi mix (a Borgi!).

Nancy Tupper Ling
is a children’s author, poet, bookseller, and librarian. Her most recent books are One Perfect Plan: The Bible's Big Story in Tiny Poems and a collection of poetry entitled For Every Little Thing: Poems and Prayers to Celebrate the Day, which she coauthored with June Cotner, and was a Junior Library Guild Gold selection. Nancy is a bookseller at Blue Bunny Books, and lives with her family in Walpole, Massachusetts.

June and Nancy have generously offered a book for giveaway! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post. I will announce the winner next week!

I'm honored my desert-coyote-stars poem "Hymn" is included along with so many other beauties. Look for it below. 

But first, please welcome June and Nancy as they reply to a few simple prompts. Take it away, ladies!

FRESH: We think BLESS THE EARTH is especially fresh! Besides including a few well-loved poems, we also solicited for original submissions from award-winning poets. For example, in regard to “fresh,” here is the first stanza from a poem by Susanne Wiggins Bunch: 

Darkness falls,

Creatures call,

The people’s prayers are said.

God is singing a lullaby

While earth prepares for bed.

DIFFICULT: While working on a children’s book, it is especially challenging to make sure a certain poem we’re considering works for children’s ages 3-7. We frequently will find an “older audience” poem that we’re tempted to include, and we often ask the other: “Wait a minute. Will young children understand it? Will they relate to it?”

In BLESS THE EARTH, we wanted to knit together humanity, the environment, and spirituality in an engaging way. While it would be difficult for one poem to include all three of these elements, we feel we achieved our overall goal with the book.

DELICIOUS: What a fun word in regard to a book! We think the delicious part of BLESS THE EARTH came as we saw the illustrations unfold. For example, we love all of the earth elements surrounding Nancy’s title poem, “Bless the Earth. The poem “Wonder” by Amanda Smith beautifully describes the wonder of Earth and it’s placed on a full-page spread showing earth from land to sea. The images throughout the book offer many topics for parents to discuss with their children. Another gorgeous spread features a poem written by Jillian Pappan when she was age 10. She is a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska. Her poem closes with:

Baby in a cradleboard

Riding safe

In the sky.

The poem is accompanied by a stunning illustration of a brown eagle with a cradleboard carrying a young child.

In addition to offering a book of universal prayers of gratitude and earth-related inspirational poems, we also wanted to include ideas about how children can contribute to helping the earth. Our last chapter is “Caring for Our World.” Rather than offer a list of practical suggestions, we asked our contributors to create poems and beautiful prose for ideas to introduce to young children. One free verse poem, Earth’s Voice,” by Theresa Mary Grass, “speaks out” in both a tender and empowering way about how we can speak out for the earth, from prairies and 
deserts, to oceans and rivers, from mountains and valleys, to plants and animals. Another free verse poem, “I Take Care of the Earth,” by Barbara Younger, gives kids some practical ideas such as “When I’m finished with paper, I recycle it.” And “When I go to the store, I bring my own bag.” We hope we have succeeded with both the visual words and thoughts conveyed through the poems as well as creating a book that is relatable for children about how they can appreciate, honor, and care for our world.
Thank you, June and Nancy! I can especially relate to that "Difficult" hard sometimes to cut poems that might be "too much" or "too adult" for our target audience. Many thanks for choosing to include my poem "Hymn."


coyote sends
her song
past sand
and saguaros—

she, too,
knows who
swirled the sky
with stars,

who sent
the wind
to carry
her voice
across centuries

- Irene Latham


This week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART features another Alabama artist, Trés Taylor. I love this bit from his website: "He paints about life's journey and the joy that resides within." 

Now that's my kind of art!

When I approached Trés about permissions to use some of his work for this project, I was greeted with warm enthusiasm! I have been an admirer for a LONG time, and Trés' wife/Fellow Artist/Amazing Person Helene and I have run in some of the same artsy circles. As we discussed the possibilities, she brought up a vital point:

"My only reservation is that we no longer call Trés' work 'folk art' but rather 'contemporary self-taught.' But it is inspired by Southern folk art, Mexican magic realism, with a touch of Asian/Japanese influence."

What we call ourselves, how we identify...such a personal and important choice! So I wanted to be sure and acknowledge that here.

I also want to share with you Trés' Revolution of Joy community art (mural) project. SO COOL. I hope to pick up a paintbrush and participate myself! I'll also be featuring more of Trés' work in the coming weeks.

Today's piece is called Catching the Light [click to see it much larger!], and I am in love with it! Takes me back to my ArtSpeak: LIGHT these themes fold into themselves, expand, and merge again... thanks so much for reading!

If You Want to Catch Light

dive into night-ocean
where a million fins

learn the ways
light multiplies
in deep-dark places

how it moves—


such mysterious currents!

changing you
changing me

—Irene Latham 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Community Poetry Projects (because Poetry is for Everyone)

 Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! 

Poetry Friday Roundup is here at Live Your Poem! Please leave your link below.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

It occurs to me that our Poetry Friday Roundup is a Community Poetry Project. 

So is our annual KidLit Progressive Poem, which began in 2012 as a way to celebrate National Poetry Month (April) as a community of writers.

The latest line in our Progressive Poem is here today. Yay! Thanks to Margaret for organizing and creating the beautiful graphic...and to the lovely poets who've gotten us off to such a great start! 

I'm honored to add the fifth line, which in keeping with the pattern established by Patricia, Jone, Janice, and Leigh Anne, is actually a couplet. 

I felt like it was time to break up the established pattern and infuse some urgency and immediacy...the best way I know to do that is to get into the speaker of the poem's body, so that the reader feels like they, too, are experiencing this refugee's journey. 

cradled in stars, our planet sleeps,

    clinging to tender dreams of peace

sister moon watches from afar,
    singing lunar lullabies of hope.

almost dawn, I walk with others,
    keeping close, my little brother.

hand in hand, we carry courage
    escaping closer to the border.

My feet are lightning;
My heart is thunder.

Here is the schedule for the rest of the month. I pass the baton to Margaret. I can't wait to read what happens next!

April 1 Patricia Franz at Reverie
April 2 Jone MacCulloch
April 3 Janice Scully at Salt City Verse
April 4 Leigh Anne Eck at A Day in the Life
April 5 Irene at Live Your Poem
April 6 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
April 7 Marcie Atkins
April 8 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a God Forsaken Town
April 9 Karen Eastlund
April 10 Linda Baie at Teacher Dance
April 11 Buffy Silverman
April 12 Linda Mitchell
April 13 Denise Krebs at Dare to Care
April 14 Carol Varsalona at Beyond Literacy Link
April 15 Rose Cappelli at Imagine the Possibilities
April 16 Sarah Grace Tuttle
April 17 Heidi Mordhorst at my juicy little universe
April 18 Tabatha at Opposite of Indifference
April 19 Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core
April 20 Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect
April 21 Janet, hosted here at Reflections on the Teche
April 22 Mary Lee Hahn at A(nother) Year of Reading
April 23 Tanita Davis at (fiction, instead of lies)
April 24 Molly Hogan at Nix the Comfort Zone
April 25 Joanne Emery at Word Dancer
April 26 Karin Fisher-Golton at Still in Awe
April 27
April 28 Dave at Leap of Dave
April 29 Robyn Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge
April 30 Michelle Kogan at More Art for All

Today I'm excited to share with all of you pics of my most recent public community poetry project here in Blount County, which so many of you have contributed! So many thanks to those who sent poems. 

At the time of this posting we have poems from 28 poets from all across the US, including AL, CA, CO, CT, MA, MD, MI, NC, PA, TX, UT, VA... + AUSTRALIA and CANADA! THANK YOU, POETS! Here is a photo of the bulletin board. Isn't it adorable??

I also posted this week over at Smack Dab in the Middle, about writers being rooted in poetry, in words, and in the present moment... if you'd like a dose of inspiration from me, Walt Whitman, and Mary Oliver!

And now for this week's ArtSpeak: FOLK ART poem. This is one of those poems that sort of wrote itself...and I followed along. I love when that happens!! The work of art is part of the collection at the American Folk Art Museum (and appears in the post card book given me by Charles Waters). Thanks so much for reading.


my heart is not on my sleeve
your heart is not in my hands
my hands do not hold the world
nor do yours

we are small
we are travelers

let us hold each other
my heart your heart
sleeves or no sleeves
hands or no hands

we are pilgrims
in a world made mostly of water
somehow we walk  feast   love
in bodies made mostly of water

together let us flow

- Irene Latham

For your reading pleasure, here are links to a few other "prayer" poems I've written and shared at Live Your Poem. Thanks so much for reading!

A Writer's Prayer

Autumn Prayer

Winter Prayer

Prayer for the Berry Pickers

Prayer of the Black Rocks

Epitaph for Light

Fair Prayer

For the Builders

I Give Thanks for Trussville, Alabama

I Pledge Allegiance to the Lake

Let Us Now Praise Leafy Things


If you want to make me happy


When Moon Sweeps Sky Clean of Clouds