cultivating ideas with a blue spade

“The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

“Out of the Mist” by Wayne Millett

All Aboard!

Let’s take a little trip.

“Blue Garden” by Abid Khan
THE BLUE GARDEN
by Helen Dunmore

'Doesn't it look peaceful?' someone said
as our train halted on the embankment
and there was nothing to do but stare
at the blue garden.

Blue roses slowly opened,
blue apples glistened
beneath the spreading peacock of leaves.

The fountain spat jets of pure Prussian
the decking was made with fingers of midnight
the grass was as blue as Kentucky.

Even the children playing
in their ultramarine paddling pool
were touched by a cobalt Midas

who had changed their skin
from the warm colours of earth
to the azure of heaven.  

'Don't they look happy?' someone said,
as the train manager apologised
for the inconvenience caused to our journey,

and yes, they looked happy.
Didn't we wish we were in the blue garden
soaked in the spray of the hose-snake,

didn't we wish we could dig in the indigo earth
for sky-coloured potatoes.
didn't we wish our journey was over

and we were free to race down the embankment
and be caught up in the blue, like those children
who shrank to dots of cerulean
as our train got going.

~ from Glad of These Times (Bloodaxe, 2014)

“Dreampath” by Violeta Lopiz

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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Hello, super shiny and awesome person! How about a little Allison Strine to propel your week into high gear?

Based in Roswell, Georgia, Allison creates color-filled images with quirky hand lettering for children’s books and products. Her art is inspired by bright minds in history, the miracles of nature, and unusual, educational tidbits of information.

As you can see, she’s all about communicating love and joy with each stroke. In fact, she signs each of her pieces, “Love, Allison Strine.” Love her positivity!

As a big fan of typography and hand lettering, I find Allison’s work irresistible. She’s like Jessie Hartland, Maira Kalman, and Linzie Hunter rolled into one. So fun!

Allison grew up in a 270-year-old farmhouse north of Boston, Massachusetts, and essentially considers herself a Bostonian, even though she’s lived in the Atlanta area for over two decades. She also did graduate studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

For more about Allison, visit her Official Website and Instagram.

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Kenneth Koch: “Permanently” smitten


“Write poetry as if you were in love. If you are always in love you will not always write the same poem, but if you are never in love you may.” ~ Kenneth Koch

“Kenneth Koch Reading” by Fairfield Porter (1966)

Happy June! Here’s a little Kenneth Koch to nudge your nouns and activate your adjectives.

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PERMANENTLY
by Kenneth Koch

One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing -- for example,
“Although it was a dark rainy day when the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and sweet expression on her face until the day I perish from the green, effective earth.”
Or, “Will you please close the window, Andrew?”
Or, for example, “Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window sill has changed color recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby.”

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, “And! But!”
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat --
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.

~ from Selected Poems, 1950-1982 (Vintage, 1985)

“Window” by Jane Freilicher (2011)

Charming, conversational, lighthearted, with quite a surprise at the end. Did you realize this was a love poem when you first started reading it? Love Koch’s disarming approach. 🙂

Perhaps, like me, you were delighted with how he cleverly personified the parts of speech, immediately drawing us in at the beginning with characters we’re more accustomed to diagramming than dallying with.

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[tasty talk] Melissa Iwai on Dumplings for Lili

Wrap me in joy, I’m filled with excitement: Brooklyn-based author/illustrator Melissa Iwai is here to tempt us with her scrumptious new picture book, Dumplings for Lili (Norton Young Readers, 2021) which officially hits shelves today!

You may remember when Melissa last visited several years ago to celebrate the release of Pizza Day, her tasty companion book to the perennial favorite Soup Day. You may also know that in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, Melissa loves to cook, bake and develop her own recipes, making her the ideal person to spread the dumpling love.

In this deliciously heartwarming story, young Lili is ecstatic when her grandmother (Nai Nai) asks her to help make baos, Lili’s “favorite food in the whole world.” But Nai Nai discovers she’s out of cabbage, which they need to line the bamboo steamer basket. She sends Lili to see whether Babcia, who lives on the 6th floor of their apartment building, has any cabbage.

Since the elevator is down, Lili and her trusty canine companion Kiki skip up the five flights of stairs. After Babcia gives Lili a head of cabbage, she discovers she needs potatoes for her pierogi. 

No problem. Lili and Kiki hop down four flights of stairs to see whether Granma has any. Of course she does, but she needs some fresh garlic to make her meat patties.

Lili and Kiki end up racing upstairs and down, from apartment to apartment, dropping off and then borrowing more missing ingredients for several more grandmothers, who happen to be making tamales, ravioli and fatayer. 

After Lili and Nai Nai finally finish steaming their baos, they join all their neighbors for a special dumpling party in the garden, where they welcome the best dumpling treasure of all. 🙂

Melissa has lovingly blended just the right ingredients for this fun, flavorful tale that celebrates food, family, friendship, diversity and community.
Kids will enjoy tagging along with Lili and Kiki while learning about the different kinds of dumplings being prepared by Nai Nai, Babcia, Granma, Abuela, Nonna, and Teta. Six grandmas with six different dumplings — what could be better?

I love how Melissa wove the Eight Secrets Nai Nai taught Lili for “happy and delicious baos” right into the story (did you know bao dough enjoys catnaps and being hummed to?). Adorable! And of course she included a recipe for Nai Nai’s Baos at the end (after drooling through this story, readers will surely want to try making their own). 🙂

The mixed media illustrations really capture the warmth and personalities of all the characters, and hungry munchkins will want to linger over every spread as they study the delectable details. They’ll love following Kiki’s visual narrative and repeating the grandmothers’ multilingual exclamations in the speech bubbles.

With an engaging storyline that’s part relay, part cooking lesson, Melissa celebrates the humble dumpling as a universally beloved comfort food that joyously brings people together.

Now, let’s hear how Melissa cooked up her new book!

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[review] the abcs of black history by rio cortez and lauren semmer

#59 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

A is for anthem, a banner of song
that wraps us in hope, lets us know we belong.
We lift up our voices, lift them and sing.
From stages and street corner, let freedom ring.

Surely there aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to describe all the goodness contained in The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez and Lauren Semmer (Workman, 2020). From its rallying Anthem to its triumphant Zenith, this abecedarian is, I dare say, letter perfect.

Now, if I absolutely had to choose one letter to capture the book’s essence, perhaps it would be “R,” as it’s rich, radiant, rousing, readable, and resourceful. But that would only begin to describe it, because in addition to being an inventive alphabet book celebrating Black history and culture, it’s also a story of strength, persistence, and resilience, a timely call to action, and a loving praise song of hope, creativity, and pride.

Written in lively rhyming couplets, the engaging, conversational text draws the reader in right away by addressing him/her directly with the letter “B.”

B is for beautiful — I’m talking to you!
Your voice, your height, your hair, your hue.

B is for brave, for bright, and for bold.
For those who STOOD UP — even when they were told
to step back, stand down, remember their place.

B is for brotherhood, for believing in grace.

Now that the reader feels seen and validated, the enthusiastic narrator continues by using the collective “we” as she shares the seminal events, iconic figures and big ideas, values, and beliefs that define and characterize the African American experience.

Cortez features visionaries from a wide variety of disciplines — heroes, heroines, innovators, explorers, leaders and role models such as the often lauded Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker, Barack and Michelle Obama, Shirley Chisholm, and Malcolm X, along with lesser known names like organizers Fred Hampton and Diane Nash, and Dr. Patricia Bath, the first African American ophthalmologist.

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