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


  1. Wow--reading this makes me feel like I've finally met my 2nd cousin-once-removed Suzy in person. And likes it's time to play and smash more while writing. Thanks for the abracadabra gift, Irene.

  2. Loved hearing the back story about Suzy's book! Thanks, Irene. And thanks, Suzy, for the prompt idea.

  3. What excellent Fun-With-Margaret! And then more Fun-With-Suzy! And your ArtSpeak poem--abracadabra!--transported me magically to about 6 incongruous fictional settings all layered together. *sigh* Lovely. If I win a grant from MD State Arts Council, I can join you at Highlights...cross your fingers!

  4. The longer I write poetry, the more I appreciate how constraints lead to creativity and more interesting work. The interview with Suzy is fabulous. I happen to love her original title of 'pantaloons' but 'Animals in Pants' is way more kid friendly. Thanks for the abracadabra form. I think I've heard of this before...but haven't tried it...must do this! 'I lift my flute,' is a sweet entry into the poem.

  5. I really love ANIMALS IN PANTS. It's so fun. I've put it in a lot of kids and teachers' hands the past few months.

    Looking forward to Highlights and meeting Carter!

  6. Yay to Suzy! I love Animals in Pants and have enjoyed learning from Suzy in the Lyrical Language Lab! I did not know about the secret “Pantaloon” title, but now I will not be able to think of “Animals in Pants” by its public-facing name. Irene, your Abracadabra poem is magic! It makes me realize that to write one, you need to select an “A” word with a lot of rhymes. I am excited to give it a try!

  7. I love Animals in Pants, really loved hearing more from Suzy and that "more" smushing together is on the way! And Abracadabra poems are new to me, very fun, Irene. Love the sweet ending, "and fellowship is the finest gift".

  8. Really enjoyed the backstory to ANIMALS IN PANTS!

  9. Irene, I love the story of Pantaloons. And the advice of "smashing two incongruous things" is great. It seems the artist did that in the artwork and you in your poem today. I love the Casting of Dreams with the flute.

  10. I have read Animals in Pants multiple times and so appreciate knowing the book's backstory now. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for the abracadrabra poem--the form is new to me.
    How I wish I could join your Highlights poetry retreat! Sounds terrific!

  11. Irene, you have another fabulous post. Casting for Dreams is a wonderful compilation of poetic goodness that matches the artwork.I am intrigues by the idea of smashing tow incrogous things and I am fond of the abrecadabra poem format. By the way, I do love the word pantaloons and even have a pair from the early 1900s.


Your thoughts?