Reviewed by Foster Dickson
Irene Latham’s slim new poetry collection, The Sky Between Us, caught my attention with its title. Latham, an award-winning poet and young-adult novelist, throws the browsing reader a poetic curveball: the sky is above us, not between us. She is inviting us to open it and read.
After reading through to the end, sifting through poems mostly written in open forms structured into brief stanzas, an afterword explains that the book’s content was originally written for young readers, but had been re-imagined as more mature meditations on Nature, particularly birds and the sky. That makes sense, I thought, and went into a second reading.
In The Sky Between Us, Irene Latham carries her reader through a variety of scenes, whisking us here and there, never allowing us to linger long. The first poem in the first section, “When Snow Falls on Mars” follows the lonely “lander” on the cold, red planet. That poem is followed by one set in the Mississippi salt marshes. In the poem “Bait,” we are in the ocean, in a cage that protects us from circling sharks, yet in “Lake Edith,” we only encounter “bream” and “herons.”
In the second of the three sections—all of which are untitled and only denoted by Roman numerals—the subject of romantic love seems to be more present. In poems like “Lull,” “Cloud Study,” and “Learning to Sail,” Latham’s metaphors and phrasings suggest something romantic, some physical longing, that is hiding just beneath the surface. The section ends with “Grassland Gospels,” which asks in its third stanza:
Why invent fences
if every earthly claim
The third and final section begins with the poem “Blessing for a More Perfect Union” (which reminded me a little of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”) and ends with “A Song Not Yet Written.” On the final page, Latham leaves us with:
We cannot delay
a stanza longer.
The poems in The Sky Between Us deal mostly in the ephemeral subjects that we expect in poetry—searching, mystery, love—and employ a range of natural metaphors and images to tease the reader into coming along. The individual poems also strike a nice balance between the nuance that we expect and straightforwardness that we need. (Poem with too much of one or the other can either fail to reach us or fail to be poems at all.) Latham’s poems in this small chapbook have that will-‘o-the-wisp quality, coming to us as something appealing, almost recognizable, forever intangible, and urging us to follow.
Foster Dickson is a writer, editor, and teacher in Montgomery.