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 


  1. Often in leaving some work out because it could be too hard, there is also the question of whether this is a learning moment. But if in general the concept is out of reach developmentally then you have to let it go. If the child needs more, they will find more.
    Wonderful interview.

  2. My work is often inspired by the natural world as well, and this pressing need I feel to encourage my child and his generation to do a much better job preserving it than mine has, through raising him to love the planet more deeply and more actively than I was. <3 We protect the things we love, and we love the things we know, and we know the things we experience!

  3. First, I am slowly reading Bless the Earth, a lovely gift from Nancy, so don't put me in the drawing, Irene. I so enjoyed reading some about the book from June & Nancy, the goodness of it & the challenges. And, I love the mural/Trés' project, seems like a marvelous thing he is making happen. Then, both your poems touch nature, the wind and stars, the light! It feels good to read them, Irene! Happy weekend!

  4. Honored to be a part of this with you, Irene - I love your 'Hymn', and find it interesting that we both included coyotes in our poems! ;)

  5. Your poems are both so soothing, Irene. And I love that you used word prompts to flesh out an interview. Genius! I will be putting Bless the Earth on my need to read list.

  6. Irene, Bless the Earth looks so beautiful. It's so fun to read your three words interview responses. Clever and inspired. Your "Hymn" poem is perfect, imagining the coyotes thinking among the sand and saguaros. You captured the ARTSpeak image so well, but you really added another layer to the art with your thoughtful poem.

  7. What a beautiful post. There is so much to love here. The new book, 'Bless the Earth' sounds perfect for so many little people I know. I'm glad that coyote's song is in such good company. Congrats!
    I'm intrigued the the artist defining himself as a self-taught artist with varied influences. I never thought of myself as an artist. But, each year I long more and more to leave the day job and just make art. I often wonder if that is a universal thing for humans...we are artists as children but then do we return to that as elders? Hmmmmm. Thank you for 'If You Want to Catch Light.' It's a stunning poem with interesting and unexpected words that all fit just right.

  8. Bless the Earth sounds like an anthology full of wonder! Thank you for the peek into the process and struggles of the anthologist. Your poem “Hymn” beautifully links the animal world and the spiritual world. Your “sand and saguaros” set a perfect stage for this coyote’s prayerful song.

  9. You had me swooning at coyote, Irene... I see dustdevils in the desert sand all the time and will hear "her song spiraling".

    I'm looking forward to this new anthology. It taps my heart strings: nature, stewardship, spirituality! Yes, very fresh and much needed today!

  10. It's interesting how big a difference the small change in your title makes -- How To / If You Want To! I'm a big fan of how to poems, so I prefer the first!

  11. Thank you for sharing this anthology, Irene. It looks stunning. I am going to save this post because of the information about "getting it right for the age of your audience." I've always worked with above benchmark students, so I feel it's important to offer something in a text that at least a portion of the audience can "reach to." That said, I'm intrigued with coyotes - we had them visit our yard frequently - howling at night when they fed their young. I am looking forward to reading more of the fresh poems in Bless the Earth.

  12. The more I hear about this collection, the more excited I am to get my hands on a copy. Thank you so much for sharing!

  13. I can't wait to read this new anthology. And I love Tres' work! So beautiful!

  14. This looks like a much needed book in the world. I particularly loved the poem "Hurt No Living Thing" so needed.

  15. What a beautiful book and a beautiful post!

  16. Irene, I am backtracking and so glad that I did. This post is filled with much poetic goodness. deep-dark, gleam-beam-mean and the ending is wonderful.


Your thoughts?