Friday, February 26, 2016

For the Love of Words -- and BIRDS

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit lovely Liz at Elizabeth Steinglass for Roundup.

I'm especially excited to be here today because it's my birthday! Cheesecake for everyone!!!

As a gift to myself, I've invited my kind, talented poet-friend Amy Ludwig VanDerwater to come talk poetry and birds with me! Isn't The Poem Farm one of the most wonder-filled websites ever? I love learning from Amy and especially enjoy her fun, wise, gentle voice. And now readers of all ages have more Amy to love: please join me in celebrating the release of her latest book EVERY DAY BIRDS, now in flight from Orchard/Scholastic, with illustrations by Dylan Metrano.

Welcome, Amy!!

Please share a childhood memory that includes a bird or birds.

I remember caring for a robin with a hurt wing when I was four or five years old. Although I was sad that the bird was injured, I was happy to have it close and still in a box, where I could watch and “care for it” under the guidance of my mom and dad. I think that this bird died but also remember that my parents told me it had healed and flown away. They were gentle people, and I was young. This story reminds me of the beautiful and true book, THE DEAD BIRD, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Remy Charlip.

Birds often appear in poems. Why do you think poets are attracted to birds, and what prompted YOU to write about birds?

Well, the fact that ‘bird’ rhymes with ‘word’ is quite compelling! Seriously, I have come to appreciate birds through the example of my husband Mark, who knows so much about these feathery creatures. From him, I have learned that we enlarge our worlds by the company we keep. Our passions often grow from passions of those we love. This is why I believe that passionate teachers matter greatly – they inspire fascination and curiosity in children.

As for why poets like birds so much, I believe that the glory of flight draws us in. Birds are small and mighty. They travel, and they make swooping motions in the sky, just as we make swooping marks on paper, not quite sure of where we will go. Birds and writing: both speak to the free part of our spirits.

What species of bird do you most identify with (OR: wish you were more like)?
I would like to think that I am something cute and tough, like a chickadee. But others might say I am like an annoying parrot who keeps on talking when I should be quiet!

What species of bird do you see every day at The Poem Farm?
We see many chickadees, tufted titmice, tree sparrows, cardinals, and a few kinds of woodpeckers. (red bellied, hairy, pileated, and downy) . We have blue jays, goldfinches, and many red tailed hawks. We see vultures and crows and others too. I love to watch our feeders, and I am thankful to Mark for keeping them full. When I am home alone writing, these small birds are my friends.

Anything else you would like to share?

Two not-to-miss bird picture books include SUBWAY SPARROW written and illustrated by Leyla Torres and WELCOME, BROWN BIRD, written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Peter Sylvada. I love stories about birds; they are endlessly interesting and mysterious.

If I were a bird, I would fly to Alabama to give you a birthday hug! Thank you, my dear friend, for having me here today. xoxo
Wasn't that fun?! Click here for an older post of Valerie Worth poems about birds. And now, an original bird poem that appears in my book of poems for adults THE SKY BETWEEN US:

Life Without Birds

You appear just before dawn
to ask what it’s like
without you. I push through

the quicksand, gauging
the weight of forest
as it presses against my body,

a whole country of spruce,
pine, and cedar surrounding me.
I don’t want to burden you

with what you’ve done,
so I say I miss the birds.
Is there any deeper truth?

No wings flashing from
blackberry brambles,
no careful nest in the eaves,

no graceful, raucous Vs.
The loss of song
is the part I won’t admit,

no matter how tenderly
you press your fingers
against my eyelids.

- Irene Latham
Hear me read it on Soundcloud! (For some reason the embed code isn't working...grr)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

In Which I Learn from an 85 Year Old Woman

Hello! This Spiritual Journey Thursday we are discussing Violet's One Little Word: MINDFULNESS. Please join us!

Mindfulness for me means two things:

1. Looking inward

2. Without judgment

Instead of looking outward, it's looking inward: how am a feeling, what sensations are affecting me right now -- what do I see, taste, touch feel, hear?

It's thinking about eating while I eat - or really not even thinking about it, just experiencing it.

It's resisting the near constant urge I have to multi-task and be efficient.

It's taking one thing at a time, easy does it, going slow.

Just observing, accepting, without attaching any sort of right or wrong or good or bad or ways to improve.

It's shifting the focus from being controlled by the realities in one's life to controlling how we relate to those realities.

Being where I am, who I am, right now.

I think we can all learn a lot from 85 year old Nadine Stair, who answers the question, "How would you have lived your life differently, if you had the chance?"

Read her poetic answer here. (There are merry-go-rounds!)

And here's another version that appeared in Reader's Digest magazine, attributed to Don Herold.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Recently we watched at home THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE. My husband, who enjoys surfing through the choices (I hate that part!) said he read this movie's description, and he knew right away it was a movie I was likely to  enjoy.

He was right!

It's about two kids -- Mister & Pete -- whose mothers are both junkie prostitutes, and their struggle to survive the projects in Brooklyn, alone, for a summer.

It's mostly Mister's story, and what a performance by Skylan Brooks! You believe in this kid, you see his pain, all the ways he struggles, and how he's got that big ol' heart underneath all his worries and hunger and poverty and lack of parental support. And he's got Pete, who at first annoys him, but who by the end of the movie has become the most important person in Mister's life. These two kids stick together. And when eventually the thing Mister fears the most comes to pass, there's a silver lining, and the movie ultimately ends on a hopeful note.

Great movie for those of us writing middle grade fiction about tough subjects. See it for yourself on Netflix.

Meanwhile, we also watched with our youngest son FIGHT CLUB and PRIDE & PREJUDICE. Good times!

Just one week until the Oscars....

Thursday, February 18, 2016

In Which I Am Twitterpated

Hello, and welcome! Today for Spiritual Journey Thursday we are all sharing thoughts about my 2016 One Little Word: DELIGHT. Please join us!

To find out why I selected DELIGHT, please see my original post. Now that we're nearly two months into the year, I can report that I've found it rather easy to incorporate delight into my daily experiences. Delight, for me, is rooted in wonder and curiosity. There is so much to marvel at in this world, so much magic, so much to be grateful for...

The other day when I was walking at the park I witnessed a young mother chasing her giggling toddler-daughter. That little girl was running as fast as she could, laughter burbling out of her, and she kept looking back to see her mother coming after her. THAT, I thought, is delight.

One day last week my good friend sent me a picture of a chicken with feathers sprouting out of the top of its head, called a "frizzle":


Anytime I see pictures of babies or animals or babies with animals -- delight.

And it's changing me, this focus on delight. It's helping me stay in the moment, take it easy, to not be so judgmental or striving. It's also helping to reconnect me with my young, carefree self... I bought the other day a shirt that has brought me so much delight:

It's Flower from the movie BAMBI! I adored this story as a child, and when I saw these tunics on the sale rack at Kohl's, I just smiled and smiled! And yes, I brought one home. :) It brought back all those memories, all my favorite lines... like Flower's classic: "You can call me 'Flower" if you want to."

And what about that great made-up word "twitterpated?" That comes from BAMBI, too. Being twitterpated is one of my most favorite feelings in the world!

So, yes. DELIGHT. I am loving this word and the impact it is having on my life. I look forward to your thoughts!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Movie Monday: ROOM

What to say about ROOM? We braved the busy Hwy. 280 Valentine's Day traffic to eat supper and trek across town to see this movie at the only theater where it was playing... if I had to do over again, I think we would just stay in! Which is kind of the perfect segue to the movie.

5 year old Jack was born in ROOM, the shed with a skylight where his mother lives as a captive of "Old Nick," who visits every night and brings them Sunday treats -- except when he decides not to, and instead cuts the power and leaves Ma and Jack to freeze or starve.

On the one hand it's a terrifying portrait of what cruelty humans are capable of, and on the other it's an inspiring look at the power of a mother's love to create something beautiful for her child, even in the midst of horror and despair.

Ma tells Jack he will love the world, and she coaches him on what he needs to do to help them get out of ROOM. He's scared, so scared -- not just of the unknown, but of leaving Ma. He's only 5, and she's all he's known. I leave it to you to watch the movie and find out what happens.

I knew what was going to happen because I read the book by Emma Donoghue the year it came out. I have said more than once to others that the novel really like two books in one: the part inside Room, and the part outside. The movie version was more cohesive, and it reminded me of another book: GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown.

Maybe I thought of this book when I read the novel, but I don't remember making that connection back then. It's so touching, Jack's need to name things and greet them and say goodbye to them... so very child-like, and a good reminder to those of us writing for children. There is magic in everything when we're children, and part of our job as creators of books for children is to re-discover that magic. (Writing this as a reminder for myself, as I continue revising a dear-to-me verse novel!)

ROOM has been nominated for a few Oscars, including Best Picture. I don't think it will win -- really think Leo diCaprio and REVENANT will carry the night -- but please do see this movie, with a loved one tucked close beside you.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Ostrich in Love & a Poem

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Kimberley at Written Reflections for Roundup Also, lovely Robyn asked me a few questions this week related to the weather -- please put on your flip flops (or fluffy scarves!) and take a gander!

It's Valentine's weekend, and I've got love on my mind... okay, I pretty much always have love on the mind! Today I want to share one of my most favorite love stories as found in the 1981 Caldecott Award winning book FABLES by Arnold Lobel.... and an ostrich poem.  Read on!

The Ostrich in Love - A Fable by Arnold Lobel

On Sunday the Ostrich saw a young lady walking in the park. He fell in love with her at once. He followed behind her at a distance, putting his feet in the very places where she had stepped.

On Monday the Ostrich gathered violets as a gift to his beloved. He was too shy to give them to her. He left them at her door and ran away, but there was a great joy in his heart.

On Tuesday the Ostrich composed a song for his beloved. He sang it over and over. He thought it was the most beautiful music he had ever heard.

On Wednesday the Ostrich watched his beloved dining in a restaurant. He forgot to order supper for himself. He was too happy to be hungry.

On Thursday the Ostrich wrote a poem to his beloved. It was the first poem he had ever written, but he did not have the courage to read it to her.

On Friday the Ostrich bought a new suit of clothes. He fluffed his feathers, feeling fine and handsome. He hoped that his beloved might notice.

On Saturday the Ostrich dreamed that be was waltzing with his beloved in a great ballroom. He held her tightly as they whirled around and around to the music. He awoke feeling wonderfully alive.

On Sunday the Ostrich returned to the park. When he saw the young lady walking there, his heart fluttered wildly, but be said to himself, "Alas, it seems that I am much too shy for love. Perhaps another time will come. Yet, surely, this has been a week well spent."

Love can be its own reward
And now for an original Ostrich poem! Remember how my OLW for 2016 is "delight?" I've been trying to bring that sense of fun and lightness to my writing!

When Ostrich Gets an Itch
by Irene Latham

When Ostrich
gets an itch
his feathers
start to twitch.

He hitches up
his wings
and buries his head
in a ditch.

And that's when
Ostrich gets

his world flips,
itch by itch
by itch.

Sky? Earth?

When Ostrich
gets an itch
he can't tell which
is which.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

In Which I Intend to Be More Like Popeye

Welcome to Spiritual Journey Thursday! Today we are discussing Leigh Ann's One Little Word: Intent.

For a long time I thought intentions were kind of like goals: I intend to be kind to others, I intend to write a book, I intend to call a friend. But then I realized those are all about the future, when my spiritual practice is about NOW. So an intention has to be rooted in the current moment, and the current moment only. Which simplifies things, doesn't it?!

The overarching purpose of my spiritual practice is to feel connected with the world, to find meaning, to experience serenity and joy in each moment. So my intent can be as simple as being open and present. Or, even better, I can bring the Buddha's Fourth Noble Truth into it. This Truth teaches us that right intention is the second step in the 8-fold path:

Cause no harm, and treat yourself and others with Loving-kindness and compassion while seeking true happiness, that which comes from being free from grasping and clinging."

So my intent becomes this:

Be open and present.
Cause no harm.
Treat myself and others with loving kindness.
Let go of everything else.

And guess what? It's that last "letting go" part I struggle the most with. But I am trying! I love what Wayne Dyer says in his book THE POWER OF INTENTION:

Stop being offended.
Let go of your need to win.
Let go of your need to be right.
Let go of your need to be superior.
Let go of your need to have more.
Let go of identifying yourself on the basis of your achievements.
Let go of your reputation.

What I am discovering about myself is that I am really good at two things:

1. supporting causes I believe in, in absentia (I am not that good at showing up at events, but I will buy the book, donate the money, make the call, send the email!)

2. connecting people (I don't need to be THE PERSON, but I can often help find THE PERSON, and make those introductions so that a project might move forward.)

You'll notice that these are not-in-the-spotlight, backseat positions. A lot of the stress in my life happens when I forget this about myself and get sucked into my need to win, need to be right, need to be superior, need to achieve, need to have more.

So maybe my most basic intent is this: BE WHO I REALLY AM.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Movie Monday: BROOKLYN

At long last, the movie BROOKLYN arrived in Birmingham! And it was... magical.

Such a simple story: Irish immigrant girl arrives in 1950s New York City, journeys through homesickness and culture shock to create a new life, and then bad things happen to her family members, and she must choose: New York or Ireland?

But the most important thing about this movie is the love story that underpins it all. So, so lovely!

AND. I have loved Saoirse Ronan since ATONEMENT (one of my favorite movies ever!) She is beautiful in this part as well. Don't miss! I'll be pulling for this one to win all 3 Oscars it's been nominated for.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Sleepy Snoozy Cozy Coozy

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

Today you can find my niece Anna's artwork "Imagination Window" and the poem it inspired over at A Penny and Her Jots. Thank you, Penny, for inviting Anna and me to be a part of your marvelous blog series featuring inter-generational family art collaboration! I want to do more of this in my life. :)

And now I am happy to share with you a Cybils nominated poetry book SLEEPY SNOOZY COZY COOZY: A Book of Animal Beds by Judy Young, illus. by Michael Glenn Monroe. On each spread readers meet a new animal -- mole, beaver, alligator, dolphin. The poems are untitled and all end with the same closing two lines:

"Place where you won't lay your head
But to a [animal name here] it's a bed."

You'll find some fun nonsense words, as the book's title suggests. There's also a info box on each spread, and something I love is that each info box ends with a question, like "How long do you sleep?" Or, "Do you curl up to sleep, too?" This is a wonderful way to engage young readers!

Here's my favorite spread:

In the tall grasses of a glade
A spider weaves from blade to blade
Up and down and flow and ebb
Until he climbs onto his web.

A springy stringy
Oh so clingy
Frail and flossy
Quite criss-crossy

Sticky tacky
Stay way backy
Place where you won't lay your head
But to a spider it's a bed.

- Judy Young
"Stay way backy." Ha! :)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Writing in the Dark

Today for Spiritual Journey Thursday we are discussing Justin's One Little Word (Blind) FAITH. Please join us!

Writing is an act if faith. One word by one word by one word, we put them on the page without ever knowing where they will take us.

Remember E.L. Doctorow's quote?

And yet we angst about all we cannot see, how far we have yet to go, all the storms and monsters that surely await.

Faith is putting the next word down and the next. We learn to believe in the process, not the outcome. We learn the joy is in the getting there, not "The End."

It's not always easy. There are days when I think it's not EVER easy. But I still show up at the page. 

Just like any other spiritual practice, routine helps. 

I still have fears -- am I wasting my time? what if no one likes it? what am I doing? -- but these days I trust that NO time is wasted, if I am doing what I love. What matters is that *I* like it. I'm doing exactly what I am meant to be doing.

That's faith.

Looking forward to everyone else's thoughts! 

p.s. I love writing in the early mornings, before there's light, when no one else is awake. So, really, I write in the dark pretty much all the time. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Little Gee's Bend in Decatur, AL

Last week it was my great privilege to share LEAVING GEE'S BEND with readers of all ages in Decatur, AL, as part of their "River Reads" series.
Book adventures are always more fun with a friend!

I'm so honored they selected LEAVING GEE'S BEND! It was great fun to share my adventures and Ludelphia's story with Somerville Road Elementary, Walter Jackson Elementary and the Decatur Public Library. Big thanks to Beth Young for all your work on the project! And thank you, readers, for coming out, asking great questions, and making me feel so very welcome. Your enthusiasm reminded me of all the reasons I was drawn to this story in the first place. And I am so excited for your visits this month with the quilters!

Here are a few pictures, which I wouldn't have if not for my dear friend Pat Weaver accompanying me. Thank you, Pat! Mwah!:
students at Somerville Road Elementary

me and librarian Sally Savas

me and Kim Mitchell, at Carnegie Visual Art Center (with Gee's Bend quilt!)

Gee's Bend quilt on display
Rhonda, Beth, Stephanie and me at library.
(Later Beth and her mom took us out to Bob Gibson's BBQ... yum!)

Enthusiastic quilter in audience at Decatur Public Library

Students at Walter Jackson Elementary

librarian Todd McDonald, me and principal Rhonda Reece
(Walter Jackson Elementary)

quilt square from the community quilt project

And finally, this is why I love libraries: books and a wall quilt and computers and flags and a GIANT SNAKE to inspire wonder and magic! 

So much fun! Thanks to all!! And if you've made it this far... I also have a post over at Smack Dab today, on the topic of "hibernation." 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Look! The Sun is Shining on Antarctica!

Put on your hats and mittens and grab your mug of hot cocoa: today is the official release day for WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA: Poems from the Frozen Continent!

Big, big THANK YOU to everyone who has already made this book feel so very welcome. I loved reading all your generous Poetry Friday comments. I am still in the midst of busybusy, and I look forward to catching up with everyone's blogs very soon!

I do want to mention what a fun project this was to work on -- and I adore Anna Wadham's illustrations!

To think it all started when fellow Alabama YA author Ash Parsons put into my hands THE WHITE DARKNESS by Geraldine McCaughrean... for more background information, see Catherine Flynn's lovely Poetry Friday post. For the first poem I wrote in the collection, see Linda's Write Time post that includes a personal ad written by an Adelie penguin! And for an excerpt from the novel that I absolutely adore, keep reading!

But first, allow me to share the promotional poster for the release event I'm sharing with Jim McClintock, author of LOST ANTARCTICA, to be held this Saturday at Anniston Museum of History:

And now, from THE WHITE DARKNESS by Geraldine McCaughrean:

"What kind of word is big enough to describe Antarctica? To begin to capture anything here, big would need twenty-seven syllables. Words can’t cope. The space between the letters ought to make them elastic enough, but they aren’t. The tails under the g’s and y’s and qu’s and j’s ought to help them grip, but they slide about helplessly. Cliffs are the length of counties. Icebergs are the size of cities. Prospects run as far as the sky. Parallel lines never meet because there’s no disappearing point. Adjectives die in the wing the moment they see Antarctica, and plummet onto the Plateau. Words are no good."
...which are fighting words for a poet, you know? Must. Find. The. Words.

You can discover the words I chose by reading WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA! :) May you enjoy your visit to the frozen continent.