I’m not sure if it’s a late new year or an early Valentine’s here on my blog, but I’m excited to be celebrating any day with a poetry book giveaway. The book is THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS, a new collection from Irene Latham.

The Color of Lost Rooms by Irene Latham

In The Color of Lost Rooms, author Irene Latham examines themes of love and loss through art, history and nature.

I’m a big fan of Irene’s first full-length poetry collection, WHAT CAME BEFORE, which was named Alabama State Poetry Society’s Book of the Year and earned a 2008 Independent Publisher’s (IPPY) Award. More recently, she’s been attracting a lot of attention with her debut midgrade historical novel LEAVING GEE’S BEND (G.P. Putnam, 2010), a Depression-era story that stole my heart – and, perhaps more significantly, Booklist called “authentic and memorable.”

Imagine how the cup/misses the weight of tea Irene writes in “Blue Still Life,” one of the poems in THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS. These lines hint at much of what this book is about: love and loss, desire and duty, regret and the return of hope. But if this book is about life and love, it’s of art and history and nature. After I read the book, I was very curious to learn more about the genesis of many of these poems, and Irene graciously answered a few questions.

KW: In the acknowledgments of this book, you thank the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) for the inspiration you found in their “stunning collection.” I know from your book that this includes Georgia O’Keefe, Mary Cassatt, and Berthe Morisot, just to name a few. Tell me more about that.

IL: When I was on book tour for LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I did a signing at Sherlock’s Books in the Nashville area. Right beside the signing table was a rack of postcard books. I picked up a set called “Women in the Arts” that featured art pieces from NMWA. I decided to use that postcard book as a prompt for the poem-a-day challenge I do every April for National Poetry Month. Twelve of those poems made it into the collection.

KW: Have you written poems inspired by other art?

IL: It has been my great fortune to have been part of two poetry/art shows with artist Liz Reed. We call it “Which Came First – Poetry or Paint?” Some of the paintings have been inspired by my poems, and some of the poems inspired by her paintings. In fact, a poem in the collection, “Black Dress,” was featured in one of those shows (Liz’s painting is so evocative!). So I am no stranger to ekphrasis. I love using other people’s art as a jumping off place for my own creations.

KW: In other poems throughout the book, you assume the voice of both fictional and historical characters, such as Hester Prynne, Guinevere, Lady Churchill and Einstein’s daughter.  What makes you decide to take on the voices of certain characters? How is it, for example, that you picked Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd, instead of, say, George and Martha Washington?

IL: It’s kind of like falling in love — I feel like the historical characters chose ME more than I chose them. But I did have some help. My father is extremely well-read (he reads on average a book a day!) and has a particular interest in history. So as soon as he was aware of my project on historical women, he began sending me tidbits and names of interest. Other friends did the same. I wrote more than 50 historical poems — 15 made it into this collection. (As for George and Martha, I did write one from the perspective of Ona Judge, who was one of the Washington’s slaves. Maybe it will find a home in the next collection!)

KW: Irene, I’m already looking forward to that next collection!

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If you’re not familiar with Irene’s work, or you don’t yet have THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS, I know you’ll want to enter here. The winner will be chosen by a random drawing on the evening of Monday, February 7th from all who have commented here or on my Facebook pages (including the Kory and Kelsey Wells fan page) by 6 PM CST on the 7th. And if you’re not the lucky winner, you can order your own copy here on Irene’s site.

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