In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’m turning to an accomplished and published poet to share some insights with all of you about the nature of poetry, the places to get published, and some ways to make this month a celebratory (and literary) one.
Irene Latham has had her poems published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, is the author of two collections of poetry (The Color of Lost Rooms and What Came Before), and serves as the poetry editor of the Birmingham (Ala.) Arts Journal. She is a frequent speaker on poetry at writing conferences and classes, and is a rising voice among Southern poets.
I hope that her responses to my questions will motivate you (as they did me!), whether you are a poet or simply enjoy poetry.
Writing with Cheryl: Tell me a little bit about how you developed an interest in poetry.
Irene: Family legend has it that I have been writing poetry ever since I could write. Back then I was writing love poems — for my mother. I’m still writing love poems for my mother! I’ve published in all sorts of journals,
literary magazines and anthologies, and now have two collections available.
WWC: What is so appealing to you about poetry…both reading it and writing it?
Irene: For me, reading poetry is as necessary as prayer. It helps me see the world in a different way, it opens me and helps me discover things about myself. I love the challenge of writing in such a compressed form where every syllable
matters (and if it doesn’t, its your job to cut those syllables!). I feel like I am diving into the center of existence when I write poetry. It’s very much an emotional experience.
WWC: What seems to inspire you most in writing poetry? Do you write about certain topics, or is it a personal experience that gets you, and so forth?
Irene: I am particularly drawn to the subjects of love, loss and longing. My work seems to revolve a lot around exploring relationships and roles like parent, child, friend, spouse, lover. My life isn’t quite interesting enough, so I often turn to historical figures like Mary Todd Lincoln or Einstein’s daughter to engage my curiosity. I’ve also done a whole series of poems inspired by paintings that hang in the Nationial Museum of Art by Women in Washington, DC. Many of those poems appear in my book THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS. I just completed a new collection in which I used the historic photos from U.S National Parks and wrote poems to accompany them. Some of the photos are landscapes, some of park visitors, some of the various wildlife. I am looking for a publisher who will publish both the photos alongside the poems.
WWC: Are there many opportunities for people to get published as a poet? How would a poet learn more about getting published?
Irene: Thanks to the Internet, there are more opportunities now for publication than ever before. I invite poets to submit poems to Birmingham Arts Journal, which appears both online and in print (www.birminghamartsjournal,com). The unfortunate truth is that poetry is generally not a paying market. People who write it seem to be drawn to it for very personal reasons and find gratification in getting their poems read by others. The good news is, most magazines publish submission guidelines on their websites. For a list of publications that accept poetry submissions, check Poets & Writers (www.pw.org/literary_magazines).
WWC: Who are your favorite poets to read?
Irene: My go-to answer for this question is Mary Oliver and Sharon Olds. But I find I get even more excited about discovering new voices in my own submission files for Birmingham Arts Journal. So many wonderful poets are out there writing beautiful poems. It’s unfortunate that the general population is only aware of the famous few, like Billy Collins and Maya Angelou.
WWC: What are some ideas you would give to people who are not necessarily poets (but might still be interested in learning more about poetry) to celebrate National Poetry Month?
Irene: Subscribe to Your Daily Poem (www.yourdailypoem.com). I love the editor’s selections because they are from regular people and the poems tend to be very accessible to the average person. You don’t have to be a poet to appreciate these poems. Go back and revisit poems you may have been exposed to in childhood, like Shel Silverstein or Dr. Suess. On April 26 (Poem in Your Pocket Day), carry the poem in your pocket. Share it with others. A little bit of poetry can go a long way! More ideas can be found at www.poets.org/pocket Also, check out the Progressive Poem now in progress through the end of April. (I had the honor of contributing the first line.) You can find the schedule for following the Progressive Poem as well as some other great National Poetry Month happenings at http://www.kidlitosphere.org/poetrymonth/.
And now…how about a giveway?
Irene has been so generous to donate a copy of her poetry book The Color of Lost Rooms for one lucky reader of this site/blog. If you’d like to be considered for the free book, make a comment on this post; I will draw a random comment on Monday, April 23 and post the winner that morning.
Good luck, and many thanks to Irene for her wonderful insights.