The arts

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!


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.


Make a resolution to get closer to some art this year. Here, Kelsey Wells shares a bit of time and space with Dirty Dan, a Fairhaven, Washington resident.

Our Lady has recently received a couple of pieces of mail that she wishes everyone would read and think about for the new year, right before they take some time to listen to someone else’s point of view, learn something new from another culture, or make some art themselves.

The first is from Arts Tennessee, a quarterly newsletter of the Tennessee Arts Commission. In his “From the Desk of the Executive Director” article, Rich Boyd shares part of a recent address to the Chattanooga Rotarians on the value of public art. Part of what he says is,

Where there was once a sense of trust in America, we now live in a country that unfortunately asks us to look at our fellow human being with hostility and suspicion, and to be wary and suspicious of people who may not look like us…

And then, there are the arts. What the arts do, what they have always done… is to invite people to come together in a spirit of generosity and curiosity, and to look at ourselves and those around us with interest and explore the things that divide us as we celebrate the things that bring us together…

Public art matters because it questions the way we look at the world; because it offers different explanations of the world we live in. A nation, a state, or a city without art would be an entity that stopped talking to itself, stopped asking questions, and stopped dreaming. It would have lost interest in the past and lacked curiosity about the future.

Read his full article on page 2 of the newsletter at

The second is from a speech to the National Press Club by Jim Leach of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In that speech, Leach says

Far better it would be for all legislators to consider themselves responsible for governing and for both sides to recognize that the other has something to say and contribute. In a society as complicated as ours has become, it is irrational to think that Republicans cannot find some Democratic initiatives helpful to society and that Democrats cannot from time to time vote with Republicans…

How we lead or fail to lead in an interdependent world will be directly related to how we comprehend our own history, values, and diversity of experiences, and how deeply we come to understand and respect other peoples and societies. Citizenship is hard. It takes a willingness to listen, watch, read, and think in ways that allow the imagination to put one person in the shoes of another.

Read the full speech at

Here’s to 2010, and the power of art to build communities!

This Sunday, September 27th, in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, the 3rd Annual Dare to Be Different Showcase is slated to feature 9, count ’em, 9 hours of bluegrass music from bands near and far, including  29 Strings from the Slovak Republic.  The event is hosted by Bell Buckle-based Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, who themselves tour internationally.

Admission is only $10. As a nerd and a disciple of Ms. Cheap, I have to point out that’s only $1.11 per hour,  quite the entertainment value. And, to add to the enticement, all proceeds benefit the Foundation for Bluegrass Music, which supports educational programs on this very unique American art form through both materials and scholarships.

Why the name “Dare to Be Different?” I queried Becky Buller, band leader and multi-instrumentalist for Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike. “Because our band dares to be different!” she exclaimed. “We’re not your granddad’s bluegrass band!”

I’ll attest to that. My family and I first heard Becky and Liberty Pike (minus Val, who was healing from throat surgery) in 2006 when we visited Branson, Missouri. We were trotting by an amphitheater in Silver Dollar City, bound for the tilt-a-whirl, when the words “Liberty Pike” caught our ears. The name caught our attention because there is a road called Liberty Pike which turns into Main Street in Bell Buckle, which is near Shelbyville, TN, where my husband grew up. Not that there aren’t multitudes of Liberty Pikes in the nation, but it was enough to bring us into the theater. We sat down on a bench toward the back and were treated to rousing classics like “Mule Skinner Blues” as well as the band’s own songs, like the jazzy “Buzzed Like a Honey Bee.” In the course of the show, we realized we’d traveled 491 miles to become fans of a band based just down the road from home.

After that, we were hooked – especially my daughter, Kelsey. (more…)