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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday: Running Hot and Cold with Irene Latham…


Happy Valentine’s Day weekend, Poetry Lovers!

Is it warm where you are? Cold? Frigid?

Today I offer up poetic goodies for climates of either extreme, with big heartfuls of thanks to our own Irene Latham, who agreed to stick around for a fun mini Q-and-A after the poetry.

First, let’s enjoy a couple of her poems from books featuring completely different parts of the planet. Both of these animal-friendly collections are from Millbrook Press, with lively paintings by English illustrator Anna Wadham.

From DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST – And Other Poems from the Water Hole:


Dust Bath at Dusk


Trunks become
dust hoses;
beasts strike poses

and preen in silhouette
created by the
hazy screen.

Soon skin
is powdered
in a red-grit shower

that banishes bugs
and becomes next day’s
sunscreen.

one final
wallow,
one last trumpet –

all clean!


©Irene Latham. All rights reserved.


That’s one way to splash around – if you’re an elephant on the blazing African savanna.

If you are way too cool for that, (and you are young and have flippers for wings), maybe this next poem’s for you.

From WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA – And Other Poems about the Frozen Continent:



Gentoo Penguin Jumps In


After cozy days
in the nest,

after meals delivered
by my parents,

after guarded naps
and hunting lessons,

after shedding fluff
and sprouting new feathers,

after long, sunny days
spent with others my age –

suddenly
      the sea

doesn’t seem
            too vast for me.

Splash!


©Irene Latham. All rights reserved.

Are you curious about which environment our oh-so-talented poetess might prefer? Let's ask her.

--Hot or Cold - Are you more of a warm-weather warrior or a cold-weather conqueror?

I am very much a fair-weather kind of gal... love spring and fall and don't tolerate so well the extremes! I enjoy the view of the beach far more than the heat-sticky-sunburn, and the best thing about winter are other people's pictures of snow -- and my cozy boots & scarves.

--What's your favorite hot drink? What's your favorite cold drink?

Hot chocolate! I visited Frankfort, KY a few years back and was introduced to Bourbon Ball Hot Chocolate...it's a bourbon truffle dropped into steaming hot chocolate, and it is divine! And for cold, there's Zaxby's Birthday Cake shake... sinful, and I love it. On a daily basis, I love hot tea (Harney & Son's "Paris" tea, anyone?) and iced tea (these days I take it unsweetened).

--Favorite summer activity? Favorite winter pastime?

Summer: Camp Buttercup (for Brave, Creative Girls) with my wee nieces & very young sister! I am the mom to 3 sons, so a few years ago I created an annual just-girls camp at my house. Highlights include poetry, outdoor adventures (horseback riding, tubing,...), movies, live theater, local attractions, art, food... each year it has a different flavor, and it is always an exhilarating, exhausting week.
Winter: I love to cozy up -- and read. (And quilt and play cello and write poems and make Valentines and work on scrapbooks and blog and make soup and ...)


--Favorite warm color? Favorite cool color?

I love a warm butter yellow and any shade of cool purple. (Which, I recently learned, are the colors representing the women's suffragist movement.)

--And, since you're a quilter, which fabrics: light cottons, soft flannels, or fleece?

Cotton, for sure! Anything soft and light and flow-y.

Many thanks for playing along, Irene! Raising our cups of hot chocolate to you.... (No worries - I won't ask anyone what's inside.)

For some great posts on Irene's ANTARCTICA book, which, incidentally, is HOT off the press, please visit these great features by other Poetry Friday bloggers:

Catherine at Reading to the Core and

Margaret at Reflections on the Teche and

Linda at Write Time. [Note - I couldn't successfully call up this link of Linda's when I posted this; if you have one that works, do tell!]

Be sure to dive in and wallow around at Written Reflections for this week's Poetry Friday Roundup!
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Poetry Friday: Of Mice and Chihuahuas - and Rebecca Kai Dotlich


Just over three years ago, we rescued a three-pound Chihuahua. (Okay, I rescued a three-pound Chihuahua when something tiny ran in front of my car on a busy road. “You’re not even a real dog!” I said, dodging traffic.) Less than a year old, no tags or microchip, and though she’d been loved by somebody, we were unable to find an owner. So she joined the family, and son Seth named her Rita.

We’ve never been “tiny dog” people, but I have to say, this one steals everybody’s heart. More than one vet tech has marveled that she’s a nice Chihuahua.

She’s also entertaining. Her latest antics involve stalking mice below the house from the comfort of indoors. Our small coastal cottage was built on slanted ground with pillars in the back. Boards run from the ground to the bottom all around, but there is open space between them. You can open a gate and walk on dirt underneath the back part of the house. With insulation tucked beneath the floor, it’s evidently an inviting space for little critters to make themselves at home. (Hubby was down there this week, and one of said little critters dropped down as he was tacking up insulation – not sure which one was more surprised! At least it was small.)

From inside the house, Rita has set up a couple of monitoring stations. One is below the dining room hutch. She can fit inside the space between its carved legs. She’ll sniff and then sit on high alert, head cocked and ears up, for quite a while. Then she’ll run around to the rug in the kitchen and adopt the same stance. Wonder what she’s listening to? I’ll ask her, “Rita – where are your mice?”

All this puts me in a mind to share Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s beautiful poem, “Winter Home.” It’s from one of my favorite collections of all time, Sharing the Seasons (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) by the incomparable Lee Bennett Hopkins . The rich illustrations by David Diaz are pure magic.

Enjoy!


Winter Home

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

We build our beds
inside this barn,
with shreds of cloth,
old rags, twine. A room
where we can winter-dine
to chime of ice, by windows full
of snowflake art. With dreams of crumb,
cracker, tart, inside this old
wind-whistling place, this cold
and tiny mousekin space,
we cuddle to chase
the chill away,
imagining an April day.



©Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Used with permission.


Savor this poem – it’s one to read again; you’re sure to catch some new poetic treasure the second (or third!) time. So many luscious words/turns of phrase - do you have a favorite?

I wonder if these mice are distant cousins to the ones who usher us into and out of Jumping Off Library Shelves (Wordsong, September 2015)? :0)

RKD fans, take note: If you haven’t seen her oh-so-clever One Day, The End.: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories (Boyds Mills Press, October 2015) illustrated by Fred Koehler, you’re in for a treat. Keep your antennae out next month for another Boyds Mills title by Rebecca, The Knowing Book, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. I was lucky enough to have a sneak peek of this one, and it’s going to be on my gift-giving list for all kinds of occasions. (“This picture book encourages readers to make the most of their lives….” School Library Journal).

Thanks to Rebecca for sharing the perfect Winter poem today, and to all the wee critters that enrich our lives.

Keep celebrating a new year of poetry with our wonderful Tabatha, rounding up at The Opposite of Indifference today. Stay warm and cozy!
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A Little Wild...



HAPPY TENTH BLOGIVERSARY to my dear friend and fellow poet, IRENE LATHAM! Couldn't resist the party at her place this week to honor this milestone - she's hosting a Wild Roundup (like the Poetry Friday Roundup) around the theme of her "One Little Word" for this year - wild!

I wrote an original poem with a nod to one of the most inspiring folks I know - thanks for all you generously share with the world, Irene. Here's to the next 10 years! XO


               A Little Wild


            You have a little wild in you.
            How do I know? I do too.

           When we stop to look around,
           hush ourselves to hear each sound….

           You have a little wild in you.

            Curl of leaf, expanse of sky –
            read each scent that shimmies by.

           You have a little wild in you.

            I do too.

            Grrrrr.


©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.


Check out all the wild posts here at Irene's Roundup. Wishing everyone a wild and wonderful week....
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Poetry Friday - Of Carolina Wren Connections...


It's almost here... National Poetry Month! Most of you know the Academy of American Poets and the poets.org site.

"Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month, held every April, is the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture."

[Many of our Poetry Friday peeps go all out in April - Jama will be compiling a whole menu of special blog events and links over at Jama's Alphabet Soup.]

You might also subscribe to the Academy's "Poem-a-Day" feature, in which a new poem magically appears in your inbox each day. I was enchanted by an offering earlier this week, both its subject and luscious writing.

The poem is "The Carolina Wren" by Laura Donnelly. Here's a bit from the middle, to send you off to read the whole poem:

from The Carolina Wren

...
Only later, this other, same-same-again song,
a bird I could not see but heard

when I walked from the house to the studio,
studio to the house, its three notes

repeated like a child’s up and down
on a trampoline looping

the ground to the sky—
....


Copyright © 2015 by Laura Donnelly. Click here to read the entire lovely poem.

I've enjoyed watching and hearing a wren or two in our "Carolina" yard this week. At our former house in Georgia, our back patio was a regular nesting site each spring for a wren pair. I was so impressed by the industry and care they would take in building a carefully sheltered nest, and then tending their offspring from first shell-crack to first tentative flight. It was a lot of work!

And then this week, a kind note from friend - Poetry Friday-er, talented author, and - I'm happy to say - artsyletters customer Jan Godown Annino. (Check out her new bloggie look at Bookseed Studio - you'll love it!)

Jan had bought some of my wren and books notecards (design above) and sent me a message. We ended up swapping wren stories. Mine was simply that one year the aforementioned nesting pair built their twiggy home in a pot on our patio. I really wanted to make a relief print of a Carolina wren and some old books, so I set the stage. Though I knew my finished art would be simplified and stylized, I wanted a reliable reference picture. I placed a small stack of vintage books next to the pot, thinking Mama Wren would probably perch there for a wee second while tending her peeping babies.

Then I stashed myself across the patio, hunkered low in a chair with my camera, and waited. And waited. And waited. She did come back and forth a few times, but it took more than one attempt on my part to click at just the right moment, and from far away. The pictures were not National Geographic quality, but they provided enough visual information for me to sketch by, and I was able to get to work.

Now this current rambling would be incomplete without my also mentioning another friend: writer/author/editor extraordinaire and public relations expert P. J. Shaw (Peggy, to me!). I was so thankful to get to catch up with Peggy at our recent SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle in Atlanta. Peggy was my editor for WOLVES (Intervisual Books, 2008) a few moons ago, and I was always impressed by her quick eye and ear when wrangling a manuscript.

In addition to her job as Public Relations Director at a large private school in Atlanta, Peggy offers editorial services to individuals and organizations through her business, Wren Cottage. Isn't that a wonderful name? The masthead on her website features a rich and gorgeous painting of a wren sitting atop some books by artist Camille Engel . That image obviously spoke to me as I watched "our" wrens making so many trips to and fro on the patio, where I used to shoot all my Etsy product pictures before we moved to South Carolina and I landed a real studio space.

I suppose along with Laura Donnelly's "looping" images in her poem, I can't help connecting the sight or sound of a wren with my memories of other wrens that I checked on daily for weeks and weeks, or my associations with wren-loving creative people like Jan and Peggy. Poetry loops us all together.

Please wing your way back here next week, when we'll kick off Poetry Month with another talented Student Haiku Poet of the Month! Until then, enjoy all the great poetry rounded up this week and set to flight by the multi-talented Jone at Check It Out!
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Poetry Friday - Tribute to Mary Lee. A Different Mary Lee...


Our Fearless Poetry Friday Roundup Leader, Mary Lee, of A Year of Reading blog and her poetrepository website, is certainly worthy of a tribute. But today I bring you a different Mary Lee. One with fins.

Let me back up. Today in our new hometown, a 10-day extravaganza known as the "Water Festival" begins. While this part of the lowcountry is also called the “slowcountry,” my understanding is that for the next week or so, it’ll be the slowcountry on steroids. Concerts, dragon boat races, parades – on land and in the water, and lots of dancing, lots of beverages…. Well, at least we live within walking distance to downtown!

Thinking about celebrating the water, I was also reminded of a news story which came in on the tide this week. We’d heard about Mary Lee, a great white shark who pays visits to Beaufort County waters. (She even has her own Facebook page .)

She was tagged in 2012 by OCEARCH and now scientists monitor her movements, and those of other sharks, around the world. (Pretty cool – click here here to explore!)

Anyway, seems our new little personal nest is more or less surrounded by what just might be a prime nursery site for great white mamas in the Northern Atlantic! Port Royal sound is teeming with diverse aquatic life, perfect for baby shark buffets. Here’s this week’s article which caught my eye.

(Did you click over? Please pause and wrap your mind around that: 16-plus feet long. 3400-plus pounds.) Ah, motherhood.

I decided to shine the light on Mary Lee for Poetry Friday this week – from a distance, of course. From land, in fact. Inside my house.


MARY LEE


Mary Lee, Oh, Mary Lee –
you’ve come back to the bay.
To these waters where we swim
and fish - and row - and play.

Come to leave your pups with us
in deep Port Royal Sound.
Yes, we’ll keep an eye on them.
We hear you’re Northern-bound?

Not to worry. Go on now.
Though you might find it odd,
we’ll sleep a bit more soundly here
when you’re back in Cape Cod.



©Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.


Please remove your silver jewelry and paddle and splash your way on over to Terrific Tabatha's, where she has this week's Roundup at The Opposite of Indifference.
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Poetry Friday: Dog Goodbyes



A few children's lit folks I'm friends with on Facebook have posted tributes to dogs they've had to say goodbye to recently. We were in the same boat last Saturday. Our dachshund mixes, Asper and Oliver, joined our family as pups (rescues) back in 1999. Asper has knocked on Heaven's door a couple-few times in recent years, only to rebound and romp with us for a little while longer.

Last week, after enjoying a few days with us at the beach following Morgan's college graduation, he began his journey across that Rainbow Bridge. Morgan was in second grade, just seven years old, when we got him. (Oliver became Seth's dog when Seth was just four - and now he's a rising sophomore in college. Oliver does not quite know how old he really is, and we're not telling him.)

In my own Facebook post, I lauded Asper as our "Playful Pup, Defender of the Realm and Bodyguard to Morgan, Toy Hoarder, Copperhead Slayer, Couch and Bed Buddy, Trouper to the End..." - he was all that and then some.

I'm sharing all this because recently my father-in-law forwarded an email from a family friend. Here was the message: "Do you have a copy of Robyn's poem. If not would you forward this to Robyn. I have a friend who is grieving over his dog now. He needs her Poem."

I remembered the poem - it was one I'd written for my husband's brother when their family lost their wonderful Australian Shepherd, Gracie - back in 1998! I couldn't find the poem in my files (piles of boxes) at the new house, but emailed our friend that perhaps it was still in my old home office. Lo and behold, on my last trip to clean out that office, I found a copy. It went like this:

MEMO

To: God
Date: 10/30/1998
Re: Gracie

A good dog came your way today -
By now, I'm sure you know.
Please show her to the tennis balls
with an angel who can throw.

Her people down here miss her.
When you can, help them to see
they helped her have a playful heart
that's now forever free.



©Robyn Hood Black, but free for others to borrow and adjust name/date, if it might comfort any family who's lost a good dog....

Now, that poem won't win a Pushcart prize, but I was touched that those few lines were brought to the mind of my dog-loving friend after all these years, and that he wanted to share them with his grieving friend. Perhaps the most surprising part of the story, however, is that when I took the newly-found copy by my in-laws' house, my mother-in-law not only remembered the poem - she recited it by heart! We should have just asked her in the first place.

I was humbled, and comforted that poetry has the power to soothe when "regular" words don't quite seem enough. Thanks for letting me share.

For today's Poetry Friday Roundup, please visit the lovely Catherine Johnson.  Read More 
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Poetry Friday: A (Slightly Creepy?) Peek Inside the Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, with a Real Look Still to Come!

Sharing the new Poetry Friday Anthology at our recent SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle in Atlanta. photo by Jo S. Kittinger

Happy Poetry Month!

I have some fun posts to share in the next few weeks. Next Friday (April 11), we'll feature a very talented young poet in our Student Haiku Poet of the Month Series. The week after that, I host Poetry Friday (Woo-hoooo! And crossing fingers the cyber gremlins don't steal any responses this year. Took major technical intervention by some Authors Guild hired heroes to find those entries days later....)

That will be April 18, and be sure to circle back because my guests will be - drumroll, please ....- Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong! They'll tell us all about the hot-off-the-press Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, which includes 218 poems by 78 poets. You can read their launch post here (on Sylvia's blog). Also, the collection has been featured by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading and by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. Also check out these posts by Jeannine at View from a Window Seat and Linda at Teacher Dance. Catherine at Reading to the Core highlighted it, too, and there's a delightful nod from Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe. Also, those terrific Teaching Authors will be blogging about it this month, too. And - PSSST - Amy at The Poem Farm is giving away a copy each week this month! Click here for details. (If I missed anyone, correct my omission in the comments and I'll add your link here!)

I'm thrilled and honored to again be among the contributors, so I thought I'd share a couple of my poems here today. I'll share the fifth-grade poem here soon. (I "crashed" our book launch at our SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle last weekend with these - so fun to share and to spread the word about this new collection!)

Here are my poems from the Fourth Grade section:



FOOD FOR THOUGHT


You won't find a character, setting, or plot
on the side of the cereal box Dad bought.

But wait! There's still something tasty to read.
The food label has information you need.

Ingredients tell you what is inside.
(See sugar and salt? They were trying to hide.)

Your body needs protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
A good bit of this, just a little of that.

Vitamins help keep you active and strong -
minerals, too, when they tag along.

Check out the calories per serving size.
Then make a choice that is healthy and wise!



And now, my personal favorite - especially because Janet said she saw a link to this story and thought of me? Hmmmmm....



ROCKY RESCUE


In the South Pacific,
Lord Howe Island has a tale
of how a giant stick bug,
thought extinct, might prevail.

"Land lobsters" as they're called
had lots of woe in store
when, back in 1918,
a ship wrecked on their shore.

Rats skittered from the boat
and found the black bugs tasty.
"They're gone!" the experts said. "Each one!"
-- a conclusion that proved hasty.

For not so long ago,
some scientists, at night,
climbed a sea stack miles away
and found an awesome sight.

Look! The giant stick bugs!
They counted twenty-four.
Now with help from science,
there are many, many more.



Poems © Robyn Hood Black. All rights reserved.


[Okay, you have GOT to check out these gi-normous stick insects, formally known as Dryococelus australis. Start here - and if you just can't get enough, look for "Lord Howe Island Stick Insect" videos on YouTube as well. ]

Thanks for reading along! Now, creep or crawl thee hence to The Poem Farm , where the amazing and aforementioned Amy kicks off our Poetry Month Roundups!

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Poetry Friday: Mortimer Minute Stops Here. (Really, but I hope someone will jump in...)

Greetings, Friends!

Ever since I first heard about the Children's Poetry Blog Hop from my wonderful, talented buddy April Halprin Wayland, I've been delighted to see "The Mortimer Minute" hopping around the Poetry Friday blogosphere. I've been dodging Kind Mortimer (and invitations from fellow poetry bloggers) for weeks, however, because of a crazy travel schedule and crazy life in general this fall.

I came up for a wee bit of air last week to find a tag invite from the wonderful, talented Tricia Stohr-Hunt, whose Mortimer Minute blog post is here on her terrific Miss Rumphius Effect blog (definitely worth hopping around there). You feel bonded with a person after sharing a few moments of white-knuckled airplane-seat-gripping on a little plane taking off from Scranton, PA, following a Highlights Founders poetry workshop, into uncertain skies.... Thanks, Tricia, for thinking of me years later!

Here's how the Mortimer Minute works:

• Answer 3 questions. Pick one question from the previous Hopper. Add two of your own. Keep it short, please! This is a Blog Hop, not a Blog Long Jump. This is The Mortimer Minute—not The Mortimer Millennium!
• Invite friends. Invite 1-3 bloggers who love children’s poetry to follow you. They can be writers, teachers, librarians, or just plain old poetry lovers.
• Say thank you. In your own post, link to The Previous Hopper. Then keep The Mortimer Minute going — let us know who your Hoppers are and when they plan to post their own Mortimer Minute.


Okay, methinks, I can do that. Answer 3 questions, check. Thank you to previous Hopper, check. Invite friends.... well, that's where the hopping didn't go so well this past week. I did invite poetry blogger friends - several - but they'd all been previously Mortimer-ed and were already posting soon, or their schedules wouldn't allow them to participate, or memes in general just weren't their thing. Now, I don't particularly want Mortimer to stop at my place - really, I have a houseful of rescued animals already. (No offense, Mortimer.) They don't always play nicely with others, at least not the 16-pound somewhat demon-possessed kitty in the basement.

If you are reading this and would like a tag-after-the-fact, please by all means consider this an invitation to play along! I'll try to post a link to your site as soon as my car rolls to a stop again (traveling again this weekend and next week - author visits in schools.)

In the meantime, here's my Minute:

Mortimer: Do you have a favorite poetry book from childhood?

I can’t place my memory on one particular book, though I remember loving poems as a child, and reading was a favorite pastime in our house growing up. (I do remember thinking “Eletelephony” by Laura Richards was hilarious.)

But, spurred on by Tricia’s “well-worn and much beloved book” she shared from 1968, I dug one out of the shelves which technically belonged to my older brother, Mike, published in 1966. It is a big Western Publishing collection with photos and illustrations, My Dog, My Friend in Pictures and Rhyme. (Guess I'm continuing last week's canine theme.) Its opening poem pretty much describes the attitude both Mike and I have had since we were babes. (And congrats, Bro, on the newest doggie rescue in your house this week!)

Birthday Present
by Aileen Fisher

White?
Oh yes, a woolly white one.

Black?
Oh yes, a black-as-night one.

Tan?
I think a tan or brown one
perfect for a farm or town one.

Sleek?
Oh yes, a sleek and trim one.

Shaggy?
Any her or him one.
Tousled, frowzled,
big or small,
I’d like any kind at all –
just so it’s a dog.


Please scroll up one post for a picture of the book. And don’t miss Renée LaTulippe’s ongoing series with the incomparable Lee Bennett Hopkins on NCTE Poetry Award winners – click here for the video posted this month featuring Lee’s interview about Aileen Fisher.

Mortimer: Do you write several drafts of a poem or dash off publishable gems the first time around?

I find most writing, especially poetry, needs to "cure" - at least overnight, usually many overnights, and sometimes over a month or year or more. That is just part of the process. It would be rare that something needing fixin' doesn't jump out upon a second or twentieth reading.

Mortimer: Do you have a favorite poetic genre?

Many kinds of poetry make me swoon. Blake (1757–1827) wrote, in the opening lines of "Auguries of Innocence":

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour....


Click here for more.

Good poetry allows me that magic. The way poetry crystallizes a moment, an experience - that's probably why I'm so drawn to haiku. Speaking of which, I need to go pack. I'm participating in a Haiku Society of America regional "haikufest" this weekend in Atlanta.

So if you'll excuse me, and if any Poetry Friday bloggers want to take Mortimer...

Now, jump on over to see the wonderful, talented Irene at Live Your Poem , where she's hosting this week's Roundup AND celebrating her 1000th post. Woo-hoooo! That's enough to make you want to twitch your whiskers.
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Poetry Friday: Mary Oliver's Dog Songs




Greetings, Poetry Packmates! It's the tail end of Wolf Awareness Week, so I thought a canine post might be in order.

A very dear friend (and high school teacher - one of the main reasons we shelled out private school tuition for both of our kids if truth be told) surprised me with a special gift this month: Mary Oliver's new book, Dog Songs (The Penguin Press, 2013). Michael has quite a soft spot for dogs himself and is regularly seen romping around town with their two soft and lively cinnamon pups.

My family's own pack includes two male 14-year-old dachshund mixes (littermates) who think they're still puppies and a year-old dainty, feisty, utterly charming female Chihuahua, all three and-a-half pounds of her, that I rescued from a busy road last year. (That's another story.) I can't imagine life without dogs as part of the family.

Apparently neither can Mary Oliver, whose unassuming and accessible poems in this collection at turns imagine what our canine companions are thinking, feeling and saying, celebrate their unique and wild qualities, and mourn the brevity of their time with us.

A phrase Michael pointed out, from "School," asks:

How many summers does a little dog have?

If you journey through these poems you'll meet Percy, and Bear, and Ricky, and Benjamin, to name a few - all dogs with something to say.

Here are the opening lines from "The Sweetness of Dogs" - because I'm actually at the beach right now myself, and tonight is a full moon.

What do you say, Percy? I am thinking
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It's full tonight.

So we go

....


Click here to read a review of this new collection in The New York Times.

And because it's almost Halloween, and I would hate for any picture book loving friend of dogs (and children) to miss it, please continue to celebrate with me one of my favorite works ever, Bone Dog (Roaring Brook, 2011), by the amazing Eric Rohman. Here's my my 2011 blog post featuring Bone Dog - the difficult topic of grief handled in such a brilliant way.

Now, romp as fast as you can without a leash over to this week's Roundup hosted by Cathy at Merely Day by Day. Woof!
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Poetry Friday: Margarita Engle is here!


Earlier this summer I was honored to feature a poem by Margarita Engle from her gorgeously crafted The Hurricane Dancers. That only whet my appetite to offer a more fulsome post featuring this talented, generous, adventurous and multi-award-winning poet. But what to focus on - her journalistic career and NPR segments? Her scientific expertise? Her picture books and animal knowledge? (Did you know she "hides" in the wilderness to help search and rescue dogs learn their trade?) Her precision regarding historical figures, some of whom wouldn't otherwise have a voice today? Verse novels?

Well, this column today is mainly about verse novels, with some of those other dynamics woven in. Like me, you'll want to explore more than just one work or form! I'm so pleased to welcome Margarita, whose many awards include a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor, just to name a few.

Your body of work (and that’s just so far!) includes a treasure of stories about Cuba’s history. First, can you share a bit about your rich family history and your visits to Cuba growing up?

My mother is from the beautiful town of Trinidad, on the south-central coast of Cuba. My father is an American artist who traveled to her town after seeing photos of the colonial architecture and traditional customs in the January, 1947 issue of National Geographic. He arrived on Valentine’s Day, and they met on the terrace of a palace that was an art school at that time, but is now known as El Museo Romántico, because it is a museum of Romantic Era art. Since they couldn’t speak the same language, they communicated with drawings. It was love at first sight (or first sketch). They were soon married, and they moved to my father’s hometown of Los Angeles, where I was born and raised. Summers spent visiting my mother’s relatives in Cuba are my fondest childhood memories. During those trips, I bonded with the extended family, including my grandmother and great-grandmother. I also fell in love with tropical nature and the family farm, setting the foundation for a later career in botany and agriculture. The 1962 Missile Crisis, and my loss of the right to travel freely, was the defining moment of my adolescence. I think that might be why I tend to write for eleven-year-olds, since that is the age at which my life was abruptly severed into distinct before and after segments.

Your writing sensitively conveys both the courage of ordinary people as well as the horror of humanity’s dark side in conditions such as war and slavery. How were you able to actually write difficult scenes, such as the recurring tortures endured by Juan Francisco Manzano in The Poet Slave of Cuba?

Thank you, I’m glad it does come across as sensitive. Those scenes were adapted directly from Manzano’s autobiographical notes. On my own, I never would have imagined such terror, but I felt obligated to retain both the facts and the spirit of his notes about his childhood. The stunning illustrations by Sean Qualls really helped soften, and at the same time, strengthen, those disturbing images.

Turning specifically to the form of verse novels, I’d like to share some correspondence with you earlier this summer that helped click this form into place in my mind. You wrote:

The two things I sacrifice in exchange for using the verse novel form's magic are:

1. dialogue---When I encounter dialogue in a verse novel, it usually feels disorienting, so I search for other ways to have characters communicate.
2. detail---I feel the need to research like a maniac, and then omit most of what I have learned. This forces me to only include those aspects of history that seem most important to me. In other words, it forces me to remain constantly aware of what I am really trying to say to young readers.


What terrific thoughts for folks exploring this form! Would you like to share a little more about its magic? Why is the verse novel a vehicle of choice for sharing your stories?


I fell in love with the verse novel form after struggling to write about Manzano in traditional prose, and falling short over and over, for ten years. As soon as I switched to poetry, the life of The Poet Slave of Cuba sprang to life. I think it’s because Manzano was a poet, and I was only able to retain the spirit of his voice by honoring his love of verse. He wrote poetry while struggling to stay alive. I write in safety and comfort, yet we meet on common ground. I have never been a slave or a boy, but I feel a kinship to this enslaved boy who taught himself to read and write poetry. After that first verse novel, I just kept going. The Surrender Tree was next, and the first draft was so unfocused that it was rejected by my wonderful editor, Reka Simonsen. I’m fortunate that she gave me a second chance to re-write it from scratch, because the result was a Newbery Honor. I don’t think that would have been possible for me in any other form. If I’d written a nonfiction book about a wilderness nurse during Cuba’s independence wars, it would have needed footnotes, instead of feelings. Someone else could write that, but I can’t. I need to experience my protagonist’s emotions. After The Surrender Tree, I followed with Tropical Secrets, The Firefly Letters, Hurricane Dancers, The Wild Book, and The Lightning Dreamer. Each of these verse novels explores some aspect of freedom and/or hope, my two recurrent themes.

While we’re on the subject of form, I’d like to take this opportunity to give a bit of advice to anyone teaching poetry to young people. Personally, I would tell kids (and aspiring adult writers) to turn off their gadgets, string up a hammock, and write with pen and paper, just letting words flow. Write as if time does not exist. Write as if rejections and critics don’t exist. Just write because you have something to communicate, deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul. Go exploring.

(I LOVE that advice!) Your main characters are full of light in dark circumstances, and often deal with being perceived in unfair and negative ways. In The Surrender Tree, Rosa (modeled after Rosario Castellanos Castellanos, who lived in the 19th and early 20th century) is a nurse who helps the injured on both sides of conflict in Cuba’s three wars of independence. She must do her healing in hiding, deep in the tropical forests and caves of the countryside:

The Spanish soldiers dress in bright uniforms,
like parakeets.
They march in columns, announcing
their movements
with trumpets and drums.

We move silently, secretly.
We are invisible.


Rosa is called a witch and pursued relentlessly. Under the weight of extreme weariness, hunger, lack, and fear, she carries on. What keeps her going?


Compassionate perseverance is the reason I chose to view 30 years of war through her eyes. I don’t understand that level of generosity and courage. I admire modern nurses for the same reason: they stayed with their patients during Hurricane Katrina. They don’t receive the respect granted to doctors, but they accomplish daily tasks that would exhaust the powers of superheroes. Nurses amaze me. Where does that dedication come from? I think it’s hope, and that’s the reason I admire Rosa la Bayamesa enough to write about war, when all I want to think of is peace.

In your speech at the 2010 National Book Festival (available on the Macmillan Authors site and your own website, and echoing your advice above, you said, “writing is an exploration.” Any projects in the works you want to talk about, or do you prefer to keep creative endeavors under wraps until they’re ready for the world?

I have taken a brief rest from Cuban history to write some animal books. When You Wander, a Search and Rescue Dog Story (wonderful illustrations by Mary Morgan!), is my new picture book, and Mountain Dog is a middle grade chapter-book-in-verse (magnificent illustrations by Olga and Alexey Ivanov, and edited by the amazing Ann Martin!). Both of these dog books were inspired by my husband’s volunteer work, training our dogs to find hikers lost in the Sierras. My role in their training is hiding out in the woods, so the dogs can practice finding a “lost” person. I also have some other picture books pending, about other subjects, including a couple of biographies, one of the most difficult p.b. forms to publish these days.

{Note: When you leave here, please take a moment to enjoy When You Wander, read aloud by Margarita in a video over at Renée's No Water River! An interview follows, and she'll be a special guest over there again soon, too!}

In March, 2014, Harcourt will release a picture book inspired by a Cuban folktale: Tiny Rabbit’s Big Wish(gorgeous illustrations by David Walker!), as well as Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal (spectacular cover illustration by Raúl Colón!), a verse novel about the Caribbean Islanders who were recruited to dig the canal, while subjected to U.S.-imposed apartheid. Caribbeans and southern Europeans were paid in silver, while Americans and northern Europeans were paid in gold, hence the title. Silver People is also my personal love letter to tropical rain forests. In this book, every living thing has a voice, including monkeys, ants, birds, snakes, cockroaches, and trees.

That sounds beyond wonderful. I have to mention that among many other things you write, you are a haiku and tanka poet. Do these short forms inform your other writing?

Absolutely! Since childhood, I have loved the short Japanese forms of poetry. They help me remain aware of immediacy, and of the senses. They also help me discover universal images that are extremely useful for triggering emotions in a reader’s mind, so that I don’t have to go on and on in a melodramatic way, naming and describing those emotions. I think haiku and tanka help me fill the blank spaces between lines of verse with unstated thoughts and feelings. It can be described as resonance, like the vibrations that continue after the sound of a bell has faded. It makes reading interactive, without any electronic gadgets, just words.

Readers and writers are always curious about an author’s work habits and inspiration. Will you play along with a short Q & A? Here we go:

Morning or Evening? (or Middle of the Night?!)

Morning. I get up early, work early, and exhaust my creative energy early. By evening, my mind is a sponge, and all I can do is read.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee, the stronger the better.

Beach or Mountains? (or maybe Tropical Forest?)
All of the above. I don’t swim, but I love the seashore. Our search and rescue dog training takes us to the mountains once or twice each week. I visit tropical rain forests whenever our budget has room for travel. Most recently, we went to an orangutan reserve in Borneo (after the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, a great conference for any Western authors who want to meet authors and readers from the East). And before you ask, yes, one sort of writing project or another often does grow out of each adventure, so there is an orangutan book in my future (illustrated by…no, sorry, I can’t reveal that exciting secret yet, but it’s edited by Noa Wheeler at Holt...)

(Oooohhh... can't wait!)
Music (What Kind?) or Silence?


Silence. I’ve never understood authors who can write in crowded places. I need to be alone with my characters, whether fictional or historical. Noise or modern music would interfere with my time travel experience.

What’s on your Night Stand? (Or would that be a Kindle?)

I just finished the best grownup biography I’ve ever read: Second Suns, by David Relin, about a heroic Nepali eye surgeon who cures blindness in remote villages. I don’t know whether this book captivated me just because it’s fantastic, or because my son-in-law is from Nepal, and I’m eager to go meet his family---probably both.) Tragically, the author killed himself right after writing this masterpiece. He was discouraged by criticism of Three Cups of Tea, his previous book. Even though accusations against that book’s authenticity were dropped in court, the discouragement must have been overpowering. I think there’s a lesson for all authors here---we can’t let critics destroy us. We have to ignore all the media buzz, noise, whining, and bullying. We have to just focus on doing our best, and ignore attacks by cruel people.

Some of your favorite-sounding words (this week!)?

The following word is on my mind: travel. That’s because I just finished writing a memoir in verse about my childhood travels, and now I’m waiting for news from my agent, hoping the book has found a home.

Thank you, Margarita, for gracing us with your talent and generous spirit today. I’m glad you write so many books, because I can’t wait for the next one!

Thank you, Robyn! It’s an honor to answer such thoughtful and challenging questions.

For more about Margarita, please visit her website.

And to explore more poetry, please check out Semicolon, where Sherry has the Poetry Friday Roundup!
(Note - as of Friday morning, I'm not seeing a Roundup there - but there are some great PF posts in the kidlitosphere today. UPDATE: Matt at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme stepped up to post links he knows of today. Thanks, Matt!)
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