Irene Latham: Live Your Poem!

Well, April is National Poetry Month so we should be writing poetry! I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t write poetry!” I used to think the same thing. But the more I learn about this beautiful art, the more I think, well, maybe…

I had the pleasure of meeting the most delightful poet a couple of weeks ago, her name is Irene Latham. Irene has written two award-winning novels for children, Leaving Gee’s Bend and Don’t Feed the Boy and she has a slew of poetry collections that have earned her a small mountain of metals.  They are colorful and happy collections of poetic phrases.  I admire the way poets are able to artfully string words together to make meaning, seemingly without effort.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that!

Irene came and talked to my Creative Writing class about “Living Your Poem” and what great advice she gave! One way to “live your poem”, she says, is to use art as inspiration. Ekphrastic poetry is poetry that “reflects on the action of a piece of art and adds to or expands upon its meaning.” Basically, it’s studying a piece of artwork—a painting or a sculpture—then writing a poem about it.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so you shouldn’t run out of things to say!

 

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She came with a little vintage trunk full of postcards with intriguing images and striking colors and the students chose whatever captured their imagination.  Then they followed her guidelines and set to work on their poems—or at least made a start. Her guidelines:

  1. Any kind of art can be used for ekphrastic poetry, including painting, sculpture, wood carving, play, dance, movie, etc.
  2. Choose a piece that speaks to you. Sit with it. Perhaps carry a photo of it.
  3. Strive to carry the poem beyond description. Add to the artwork.
  4. Tap into the senses not evident in the art; enter the scene.
  5. Don’t worry about whether your poem matches the artists’ intention. Write about what it means to your life, memories, experiences, you.
  6. Don’t miss the details. Deconstruct the piece, then put it back together again in your own unique way.
  7. Use words in your poem that reflect the mood of the artwork.
  8. Ask questions of each character in the artwork.
  9. Speak to the artist? What do you want to ask? Address these issues in your poem.
  10. Surprise the reader by making leaps in your poem by connecting the artwork to big thoughts and ideas.

I chose several vintage postcards that reminded me of my childhood. The first was this one.

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The roller skates immediately took me back to my ten year old self in the summertime. Houston, TX. I won’t dare tell the year, but you can look at the picture and tell it was a long time ago! And here’s another one that conjures memories of my grandmother’s living room.

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I’ve been beating my head against the keyboard trying to get some words to come out that would capture these images and memories in a way that would be worthy of sharing, but I haven’t quite gotten them together yet. Over the next few days, though, I will be sharing more postcard images and some of the beautiful words that my students came up with from this assignment.

In the meantime, if you have some ideas or want to try your hand at some Ekphrastic poetry, put them in the comment box! I’d love to hear from you!

For inspiration and more great poetry check out Irene Latham’s blog: Irene Latham

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Monday Mayhem: 6 Ways to be Unstoppable!

They say youth is wasted on the young.

I would agree.

When we’re young we think we know it all, that life is simple and our success is guaranteed…

As I look into the wandering eyes of graduating seniors whose only thought is what design they’ll put on their graduation cap, I chuckle to myself. If only that were the most difficult decision they’ll be faced with in the coming months and years!

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I just pray their high hopes and lofty aspirations are not dashed against the rocks of grad school rejection letters and not-so-tweet-worthy entry-level jobs.

I’ve been there.

My lofty dreams were to author books, but life led me on a long detour of learning experiences. When I first stepped onto a college campus I was prepared to make my mark, but I had no idea what the future had in store…

So, here I am, all these years later with novels yet unwritten, but I have a clearer focus. While I’ve managed a few accomplishments along the way, I could be closer to some of my personal goals if I had just realized a few things a little earlier in life.  I wasted a lot of time worrying about what others thought and living my life according to unrealistic standards.  Now that my perspective is different,  I’d like to offer the young people who are gazing out the windows at their imminent futures 6 things I would tell my younger self if I could because

if I knew then, what I know now, I would have been unstoppable!

  1. Don’t let anyone discourage you from doing what you love—even if you have to do it as a side gig, keep doing it!
  2. Get used to hard work–it doesn’t end after final exams!
  3. Hone your networking skills—success is ALL about who you know
  4. Look for opportunities—paid or unpaid–in your field, or related to your field
  5. Don’t snub the small stuff–all experience is valuable. You have to start somewhere! The more you do, the more you’ll figure out what you want to do and what you’re good at. The more you experience the more you learn, which is what makes experience so valuable!
  6. Never stop learning.  Don’t ever think that you will reach a point when you know “enough”. There’s always more to learn. Once you stop learning, you stop living.

And, I’m all about living life to the fullest. So, go be unstoppable!

Happy Monday!

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Life Lesson in a Hot Tub!

So, here we were, the token ‘blacks’ on a budget vacationing at an exclusive Marriott resort, knowing good and well we couldn’t afford the beach towels wrapped around us, much less the high-priced suites or high-end amenities, but here we came just the same, tipping over to the hot tub, hoping not to make a splash!

There were only a few people around the pool area and only one older couple in the Jacuzzi.

“I’ll give them 5 minutes to make up an excuse to leave” I whispered to my husband as we came near.

I pulled my carefully pressed and dyed blonde hair up into a knot so it wouldn’t get wet.

“You’re so wrong for that.”

“Okay, one minute.”

We dropped our towels and stepped in.

The wife said something to her husband and climbed out. It hadn’t even been ten seconds!

Aha! I looked at my husband.

Then a woman and her teen-aged daughter came around on the other side of him and stepped into the water. About the same time about four or five children come—seemingly out of nowhere and practically dive bombed in, including one little girl, about six years old, dark hair, clear blue eyes, slender arms and legs.

Fearless.

She looked right at me as she stepped into the churning, frothy, water and sidled closer. I looked at my husband.

“She likes you” he said.

I looked back at her and smiled. “Hi!”

“Hi!” She said and scooted closer. She kept looking at me, inspecting my face, my hair. “I caught a fish.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, a yellow tail tropical fish, I caught him in my hands like this” she cupped her hands together and held them out towards me.

“Oh wow. You weren’t scared he might bite you or something?” the little girl cut her eyes at me as if I was dumb.

“He was a little bitty yellow fish. Like, this big” she held her forefinger and thumb together so that there would be just space enough for a tic-tac.

“Oh, well, I guess nothing scary about that, huh?”

She gave me that look again.

“So, what did you do with him?”

She shrugged. “I let him go.”

“Oh.”

A slim, dark-haired woman holding a chubby baby wearing only a sun hat and a diaper began calling names like a drill sergeant and the little girl obediently splashed out of her seat beside me along with all of the other children who had so unceremoniously barreled in. As quickly as they came, they were gone, ordered, with precision, by Sergeant Mom. The adults who were left in the pool were awe-struck.

“I think she has 8”

“8 kids?”

“Yeah.”

“You mean all of those kids are hers?”

“Oh my gosh!”

“Wow!”

“That’s amazing!”

“That’s crazy!”

“How does she do it?”

“She seems to have a system.”

“Yeah, look at them, they’re all together.”

“Can you imagine trying to keep up with 8 kids at the beach?”

“Lord, I’d probably never leave the house.”

“I know! I’d lose one for sure!”

And so the conversation went with the older couple—oh, yeah, the wife came back, perhaps she went to the bathroom?—the lady with her daughter, who happens to be just a few years older than our daughter, and us, the only black people at the exclusive Marriott resort. We continued in the conversation, without any weirdness, awkward moments or ridiculous questions.

We marveled at the fearlessness of the mother and the ordiliness of her children, we talked about our own children and our parental triumphs and shortcomings. We laughed and chatted about all the little nothings that people chat about with acquaintances that you meet by the pool when you’re on vacation.

The water got a little too warm so we got out, wrapped ourselves in the over-priced towels and bid our resort mates adieu.  As we walked back to our room I, of course, chastised my husband  for making assumptions about others based on such simple differences as skin color or social class. He had almost let pettiness ruin a perfect vacation! ; )

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