Irene Latham

Poetry Month 2012: Irene Latham

[heading style=”1″]Poetry Month 2012: EPISODE 7[/heading]

Have you signed up for the giveaway of the gorgeous book The House by J. Patrick Lewis and Roberto Innocenti? Well, why not?


Get your goggles and swim trunks on, folks, because today’s poet takes us into the watery world of dolphins to teach us how to spin!

A twirly tip of the fin to…

Irene Latham

An accomplished poet and novelist, Irene has authored two books of verse for adults — The Color of Lost Rooms and What Came Before — and two middle grade novels. Published in 2010, Leaving Gee’s Bend is Irene’s debut novel, to be followed very soon by Don’t Feed the Boy, slated for publication this October. And guess what? Irene has invited us all to her Goodreads Giveaway for Don’t Feed the Boy! That’s two giveaways in one post, dontcha know. You’ll find the details below. Now just look at these covers. Aren’t they delicious? Books are such beautiful things!

Middle Grade Novels by Irene Latham

And yet there’s more! Between speaking engagements and school visits, Irene also writes children’s poetry for Scholastic’s Storyworks and Scope magazines, and has two of her own collections in the works. A busy lady, for sure, and yet she still found time to traipse through the garden and share one of her delightful poems with us!

…and now, direct from balmy Alabama, here’s Irene with a finny tale…

“Dolphin Learns to Spin”

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Dolphin Learns to Spin

as fast as you can swim

when surface comes, torque the tail

and you won’t fail
to spin
and spin

and spin again


my dizzy darling,
slap, splash, bubblesmash
crash into a cloud

Now, my nimble gymnast
jet , lift, add a twist

vault, exalt!
somersault without halt

head over tail

and belly flop, plop
like an anchor over rail.

Find a friend
twist, bend

and finally, my little sea-flea,
spin in sacred

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 [heading style=”1″]Guest Poet Snickerview™ ~ Irene Latham[/heading]

Irene Latham

What’s Up with Irene

Irene: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
I’m Irene and I write from the corner of my dining room in Birmingham, Alabama, in a house I share with my husband and our three sons, ages 12, 15, and 17. We also have Maggie the cat and Ruby our Australian shepherd in residence. I’m not sure I quite yet deserve that title “rhyming fool.” While I’ve long adored Shel Silverstein poems, my poetic voice doesn’t generally gravitate to rhyme. This is probably because I’ve worked the past ten years or so to develop and publish as a poet in the adult market. I really love lyrical free verse. (Okay, then, you are hereby crowned with the first NWR Free Verse Fool title!)

I am also a novelist, writing stories for the middle grade audience. In 2011, thanks to the organizational skills of one Robyn Hood Black (whom you may know from Poetry Friday – yup!), I attended a poetry retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich. And I had one of those eureka moments when I realized I can also write poetry for kids. So I have been pursuing that dream for nearly a year now. Four of my poems have appeared in the Scholastic magazines you mentioned, while the other two collections are on submission. Some of the poems rhyme, but most do not.

Your dolphin is quite the “nimble gymnast” indeed! Did the idea for this poem come to you while pole vaulting, or perhaps (more likely) while on your recent vacation to the shore?
Actually, it was during that retreat with Rebecca when I started a series of ocean poems. I don’t know why exactly – perhaps it was those many trips I have taken over the years with my kids to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga? Or, yes, perhaps it was my many vacations at my grandparents’ house in Port St. Joe, Florida, right on the Gulf Coast. I have seen many a nimble gymnast there!

Considering your poetry books, novels, and magazine writing, you must be a “dizzy darling” yourself! Can you tell us a bit about your work and your path to publication?
I’m definitely dizzy, Renée! The “darling” part probably depends on the day and which one of my kids you’re asking.

It was actually because of my forthcoming novel Don’t Feed the Boy that I was approached by the editor of Storyworks. She invited me to submit a fiction piece to help promote the book. I piped up and said, Hey, I see you publish poetry, and I’m trying to break into that market. How ‘bout I send you some poetry instead? Lo and behold, she said YES! And then the editor at Scope, a sister publication, was so pleased with how the Storyworks issue came out that she contacted me and said she’d like to do something similar. And so we did! They are a fantastic group to work with – I love the stories and inspired material they provide for kids in every single issue.

What is your favorite part about being a children’s writer? 
My favorite part is most definitely connecting with young readers. I was a closet writer for many years. It took a long while for me to develop the bravery it takes to actually share myself with others in this way. And what I’ve found is that it is that connection, that moment of communication and communion between writer and reader that feeds my spirit on so many levels.

Do you have formal training in writing poetry?
I didn’t take a single writing course in college. But I have worked hard to educate myself through reading and critique and writing and conferences. I feel like the intensive time I spent with my editor getting Leaving Gee’s Bend ready for publication was my MFA.

What’s your best advice for kids who want to write poetry?
Don’t listen to my advice! Go out and make your own mistakes. Learn. Live a life worth writing about.

What’s your best advice for poets who want to get their poetry published (other than “don’t bother”)?
DO IT NOW. Don’t just talk about it. If the choice is between a conference and writing time, choose the writing time. You have a story to tell, and I want to hear it. Which means you’ve got to send your work out into the world! With blogging and e-books, there’s never been a better or easier time to share your words. And consider this your invitation: I serve as poetry editor for an online and in-print literary magazine called Birmingham Arts Journal. Send me your poems! I’d love to put your work in print. (Hear that, readers? Thank you, Irene!)

Can you recommend a particular book of children’s poetry, or a particular poet, that you think children should read? Why that book or poet?
I’m a big fan of anthologies, especially for kids just beginning their relationship with poetry. The variety of voices and styles allows for individual preferences to emerge, and lessens the likelihood of losing even a single reader. I love Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s PoetryTagTime e-books and have recommended them to young readers not just for their quality, but for their affordability — accessibility in every sense of the word is really important to me. Honestly, I am still so new to this market and find it so thick with talent that I would be hard-pressed to single out any one book or poet.

Can we come visit you and peruse your wares? (Online, of course, not at your house! Unless you can get us backstage passes at SeaWorld, in which case, we’ll bring the buckets of fish.)
Mmm…backstage passes at SeaWorld. Did you know that to even interview for a job as one of Shamu’s trainers, candidates must be able to pass a rigorous swim test that includes a 200-foot freestyle swim, a 100-foot underwater swim, and a free dive to the bottom of a 26-foot-deep pool? Yep. (Wow, poetry and Shamu trivia!)

As for me, readers can find fun facts about me and comprehensive information about all my books on my author website. It also includes a number of sample poems from my collections for adults and info about Skype and on-site school visits (now scheduling for 2012-13 school year!) and resources for young (and older) writers.

Author website: IreneLatham
Poetry blog: Live Your Poem…with Irene Latham
Facebook author page: Irene Latham
Twitter ID: @irene_latham
Goodreads Giveaway for Don’t Feed the Boy: Just click the widget below to enter!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Don't Feed the Boy by Irene Latham

Don’t Feed the Boy

by Irene Latham

Giveaway ends June 12, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Irene, thank you so much for adding “Dolphin Learns to Spin” to the video library here at No Water River. I appreciate your taking the time to be a part of it.
Renée, thanks so much for having me!

[heading style=”1″]More Stuff About Irene[/heading]

[heading style=”1″]Extension Activities: “Dolphin Learns to Spin”[/heading]

  • Using “Dolphin Learns to Spin” as a model, have students write an “action poem” about the subject of their choice, experimenting with free verse, form, action verbs, and onomatopoeia.
  • Try some of the many dolphin lesson plans online: Scholastic’s Wild Animal Watch: Dolphins interactive project or Winter’s Tale lessons and printables; art and math at Bright Hub Education; various activities, games, art, and quizzes at Enchanted Learning; and a preschool dolphin theme at First School.
  • For arts and craft time, Artists Helping Children has dozens of dolphin activities, including masks, shrinky dinks, clay sculpture, dioramas, and mobiles.
Books by Irene Latham
Looky what Irene's cooked up!

[heading style=”1″]Coming Up Next![/heading]

swoops in on Monday to show us all how to soar!

Here’s the whole schedule:

April 2 ~ Kenn Nesbitt 
April 6 ~ Amy Ludwig VanDerwater 
April 9 ~ Laura Purdie Salas
April 13 ~ Deborah Diesen
April 16 ~ Greg Pincus
April 18 ~ Charles Waters
April 20 ~ Irene Latham
April 23 ~ Julie Larios
April 27 ~ Lee Wardlaw
April 30 ~ J. Patrick Lewis


Video Location: What appears to be a tropical bird paradise in Alabama. Did you hear those guys?!

See more poems in my poetry video library. 

“Dolphin Learns to Spin” copyright © 2012 Irene Latham. All rights reserved