Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Act of Poetry

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I am thrilled to be writing today's post in support of VERSENOVELS.COM hosted by the inimitable Gabrielle.

I wrote standard, prose-form manuscripts (never published) for years before meeting Ellen Hopkins at a conference and never turning back. Just hours after taking attending her break-out session, I began a self-directed crash course in "Great Works in Verse." I read Karen Hesse and Sonya Sones, Sharon Creech and Jaqueline Woodson, and on and on.

One of the things I struggled with then (and still do) is the WHY of choosing the verse format. Is verse akin to, say, Impressionism in painting--a choice of form? Or does verse require some greater argument? Haven't we all heard editors or agents say things like "to acquire a novel in verse, it has to be very clear to me that the novel HAS to be written in this style"?

Another struggle has been the tension between VERSE and linear PLOT. I feel like there are times when something akin to split-line prose--less imagistic, more pragmatic--is required to guide the reader and protagonist toward some critical plot moment. As a poet, can I give myself permission to let this type of writing in to serve the STORY?

I have found some answers in prose novels that deal with the act of creating poetry, or break the mold of form in a way that I find instructive to poets.  Here are four for your consideration:

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson - a grieving teen finds understanding and solace through releasing poetry into the world.

ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft - a gifted young poet and musician struggles to find his voice after the death of his twin brother.

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak - a musing on death and reading featuring chapter titles that are word lists and imagistic, poetic structuring of all kinds.

JUMPED IN by Patrick Flores-Scott - a novel about two slacker-loners who become unlikely friends as they try to write kick-ass verse for the class poetry slam.

As a verse novelist, I find these books instructive and inspiring. They lead me to conclude that verse novels and prose novels do not exist separately but as the ends of a beautiful spectrum of forms through which writers deliver story.

1 comment:

Beth Hull said...

I've been struggling with the same questions about verse novels since I started working on one. Funny how I never question the format when reading published verse's just my own writing that gets the interrogation.