Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Abundance of Elephants

My 2017 One Little Word is ABUNDANCE.

As a way to celebrate this word, I've posted here and here about objects I have an abundance of.

Today it's ELEPHANTS! It occurred to me yesterday when I was writing about another strand in my writer's DNA. I think elephants, too, are in my DNA. They keep coming up in my work, that's for sure! There was Millie in DON'T FEED THE BOY...
art by Stephanie Graegin

....and Miss Fancy, the real-life elephant in my forthcoming historical picture book FRANK AND MISS FANCY, set in 1913, about a black boy's quest to meet the elephant during Jim Crow Birmingham, Alabama. Wait till you see John Holyfield's art for this book... gorgeous!

Miss Fancy!

Around the house I found an elephant parade:

BOOKS about elephants...

an old one!

one I just finished!

elephant blankets (and not 
the Roll Tide variety, either... WAR EAGLE!)

... and elephant art. (This piece was a gift
from a friend who picked it up in India!)

Want to see some rescued elephants living the sweet life? Check out the elecam at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Another Strand in My Writing DNA

This past weekend we saw a wonderful production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF here in Birmingham, put on by Red Mountain Theatre Company.

I laughed. I cried. I hummed along. And I realized this is one of those DNA pieces for me -- right up there with LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and THE BLACK STALLION. It's got so many of the elements I love, so many of the layers I want to include in my own stories and poems.

1. It's historical

2. It gives a glimpse of a culture different than my own

3. It's about family

4. And change

5. About quiet defiance

6. About overcoming hardship

7. Holding fast to what we believe in ("Tradition!")

8. About choosing love

9. And letting go

I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw FIDDLER. It feels like one of those that's always been with me. I looked it up, and the movie came out in 1971, after the musical's 1964 debut. So, yes, it really has been with me my whole life!

If you haven't seen it lately, give it a whirl. It stands the test of time for sure. And if you're in Birmingham, wow, go see it! Excellent production.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Five for Poetry Friday

Part of my travels included Rogersville
Public Library, where I presented
FRESH DELICIOUS, and readers
made veggie art (using asparagus
 paintbrushes and bell pepper stamps).
Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit marvelous Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for Roundup. I've been traveling and thrifting and reading and writing and traveling and thrifting and reading and writing... not much time at my desk, which is lovely, but also has me a bit scattered! That's okay, right? I know Poetry Friday folks might even appreciate a little scatteredness! :) Therefore, I'm in with a hodgepodge of poetry today. Enjoy!

1. Earlier this spring I heard R.L. Stine talk about how he came to write the Goosebumps series, and all the spin-offs. He opened his talk with this poem:

by Shel Silverstein

I dare you all to go into
The Haunted House on Howlin’ Hill,
Where squiggly things with yellow eyes
Peek past the wormy window sill.
We’ll creep into the moonlit yard,
Where weeds reach out like fingers,
And through the rotted old front door
A-squeakin’ on it hinges,
Down the dark and whisperin’ hall,
Past the musty study,
Up the windin’ staircase--
Don’t step on the step that’s bloody--
Through the secret panel
To the bedroom where we’ll slide in
To the ragged cobweb dusty bed
Ten people must have died in.
And the bats will screech,
And the spirits will scream,
And the thunder will crash
Like a horrible dream,
And we’ll sing with the zombies
And dance with the dead.
And howl at the ghost
With the axe in his head,
And--come to think of it what do you say
We go get some ice cream instead?
Now isn't that exactly what you 'd expect from R.L. Stine?!

2. Also this spring I got to meet Watt Key, author of ALABAMA MOON and a number of other books. We got to talking, and I asked him what he would read at a "My Favorite Poem" event. Right away he cited this poem:

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This poem has been read at nearly every My Favorite Poem event I have attended!

3. After I'd given a library presentation -- including poems from FRESH DELICIOUS, WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA and DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, a little girl gave me this little stuffed giraffe:

She said it was because she loved how courageous the giraffe is in this poem:

Triptych for a Thirsty Giraffe

  1. Craving

Leaves turn
to dust,
mouth cottons,

swollen log.

Must find water.

  1. Caution

Water hole, at last.

Rhinos, elephants,
warthogs, impalas.

Watch out for lions!

Security-camera eyes
scan water's edge.

Must be safe.

  1. Courage

Long legs contort,
widen into triangles.

Step by step by step
until, yes!

Tongue whirlpools water
into mouth.

Must not stop.

4. Another gift I received recently was from a friend Ann, who shared with me a handmade ornament with words we both consider to be a poem:


Ann shared that she'd spotted the words on a sign at a march she was participating in, and she knew she needed to share them.

5. Finally, I'd like to share a poem I clipped recently from THE THREEPENNY REVIEW:

The Capacity of Speech
It is easy to be decent to speechless things.
To hang houses for the purple martins
To nest in. To bed down the horses under
The great white wing of the year's first snow.
To ensure the dog and cat are comfortable.
To set out suet for the backyard birds.
To put the poorly-shot, wounded deer down.
To nurse its orphaned fawn until its spots
Are gone. To sweep the spider into the glass
And tap it out into the grass. To blow out
The candle and save the moth from flame.
To trap the black bear and set it free.
To throw the thrashing brook trout back.
How easy it is to be decent
To things that lack the capacity of speech,
To feed and shelter whatever will never
Beg us or thank us or make us ashamed.
Poetry is everywhere, isn't it? Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Birthday Poem inspired by e.e. cummings & Kwame Alexander & Yoda

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Buffy's Blog for Roundup. 

I'm in with a quick birthday poem for my sweet husband, whose birthday is today! I was inspired to write it after reading Kwame Alexander's e.e. cummings-inspired poem in OUT OF WONDER

I love the risks e.e. cummings took with his work, how unique and unrestrained... I tell kids all the time how one thing that draws me to poetry is how there really are no rules... e.e. cummings is a great example of that! Plus his sometimes-backwards way of phrasing things reminds me of Yoda. :)

Here is perhaps my favorite e.e. cummings poem (a love poem, of course!):

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

And here is Kwame Alexander's poem:
I Like Your
celebrating e.e. cummings

I like my shoes when they are with
your shoes. Mostly the comes. Leastly
the goes. I carry your footsteps(onetwothreefour)
in between today(...)tomorrow.
          and again
                          and again
                                         I like 
to feel the flowers, and the follow
to your lead
It is such a happy thing to yes the next with you
to walk on magic love rugs beneath the what
and why nots
the anythings of
liking everybloomingthing -- four feet, two hearts, one
great           GREAT          GREAT(US)

- Kwame Alexander

And here is mine:

birthday poem

to you happy birthday
on this most beautiful day
stick a candle in every island
blow your sweet breath across
oceans into my seashell ear

to you happy birthday
in my rivers a thousand thank yous
for candles oceans the universe you
on this most beautiful day
for you i wish

- Irene Latham

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Finding Joy in DAKOTA: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

Hello, and welcome to a brand new month! For June's Spiritual Journey (first) Thursday, we're all blogging about "finding joy." Be sure to check out everyone's links over at Margaret's place, Reflections on the Teche.
In just one week it will be a year since my father died. A YEAR. How can time go on? And how grateful I am that it does!
 I miss my father every day -- so often I read or hear or experience something that I want to share with him. But I can't -- at least not the way I did when he was alive. Here's the good news: I've found other ways to keep him in my life. I talk about him whenever I can. I even talk TO him. And you know, I can feel his presence. I can hear his voice if I really, really listen.

These days I am doing a whole lot more listening. And it feels good and right and true. Books still bring me great comfort. I find my father in them all the time. Like, DAKOTA: A SPIRITUAL GEOGRAPHY by Kathleen Norris. It was my father who introduced me to the Dakotas. When he moved to Bismarck, North Dakota, that allowed us a few adventures on those buttes and plains.

One of my favorite moments was the time we got caught in a bison stampede at Custer State Park in the Badlands of South Dakota. It was exhilarating! And how wonderful to look over and see the light shining in my father's face?
Custer State Park, 2009

Recently, thanks to a mention by Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect, I picked up Kathleen Norris's DAKOTA. Here are some of the passages that spoke to me, and where I continue to find joy:

"Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are. The irony and wonder of all this is that it is the desert's grimness, its stillness and isolation, that bring us back to love. Here we discover the paradox of the contemplative life, that the desert of solitude can be the school where we learn to love others."

"Telling a poet not to look for connections is like telling a farmer not to look at the rain gauge after a storm."

me & Papa, Laura Ingalls Homestead
DeSmet, SD - 2009
"Benedict, in a section of his Rule entitled “Tools for Good Works,” asks monks to “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die,” and I would suggest that this is no necessarily a morbid pursuit. Benedict is correct in terming the awareness of death a tool. It can be humbling when we find ourselves at odds with another person, to remember that both of us will die one day, presumably not al one another's hands. If, as Dr. Johnson said, the prospect of being hanged in the morning wonderfully concentrates the mind,” recalling our mortality can be a healthy realism in an age when we spend so much time, energy, and money denying death.

But maybe denying death is something people need to do. One might even look at a medieval cathedral as an expression of that need. Those buildings, however, were also made for celebrating life with music and art, with the play of light and shadow on stone and colored glass. They are beautiful in ways that modern exercise machines and lifestyles leading to that tofu-in-the sky are not."

"Listening to the voice of the sky, I wonder: how do we tell our tales, how can we hope to record them? I'd like to believe that deep in our bones the country people of Dakota, like poets, like monks, are, as Jean Cocteau once said of poetry, 'useless but indispensable.'”

Perhaps joy, too, is like Jean Cocteau's poetry: "useless but indispensable." I think maybe the best things in life are exactly that. xo