On my last visit to the Tollbooth, we talked about writing poetry, and some basic tips to get you started. We're going to do the same this week with poetry novels!
This may not be the most in-depth crash course on writing poetry novels ever, but we will cover some preliminary nuts and bolts and hopefully send you on your way to drafting your own poetry novel.
Why a poetry novel, you may ask? Why not a "real" book?
Let me start by saying that poetry novels ARE "real" books, and they have a place in our reader's hearts just as valid as all the straightforward books out there do.
Poetry novels are novels that could not be told as beautifully as they are told, if written in a form other than poetry.
In short, poetry novels are stories which lend themselves to the form of poetry. The two go hand in hand, complimenting one another.
A poetry novel is not a 'real' story shoved or chopped up into 'free verse' and scribbled around to try and look artsy.
So for those of you who have a story idea and are thinking, "Maybe this would be best told in poetry form......" I applaud you. For those of you adding, "However, I don't know how to write poetry and I'm afraid I'll sound stupid if I try," I beg you to reconsider.
I had never seriously written "poetry" in all my life when I embarked on SHARK GIRL. But after struggling with the story in prose form for many months, my friend suggested I try poetry form. And the floodgates opened.
With the help of many talented advisors, I studied, learned about, practiced, and wrote poetry like crazy for the next three years. The result was SHARK GIRL, which I am quite proud of.
If I could do it, so can you.
If you are considering embarking on a poetry novel, start by reading some great ones. Dive in! Here are a few titles to get you started:
OUT OF THE DUST, by Karen Hesse, won the Newberry Award in 1998, and is a riveting poetry novel. Sharon Creech has written LOVE THAT DOG, as well as HATE THAT CAT, which are both wonderful. Mel Glen is the author of many poetry novels set in high schools, including SPLIT IMAGE and WHO KILLED MR. CHIPPENDALE? Sonaya Sones has a remarkable poetry novel called STOP PRETENDING: WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MY BIG SISTER WENT CRAZY. Another must: FRENCHTOWN SUMMER by Robert Cormier. Also read Ron Koertge's THE BRIMSTONE JOURNALS. And my favorite poetry novels of all: MAKE LEMONADE, and TRUE BELIEVER, both by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Check these books out for a taste of excellence. And we welcome recommendations from our readers, too!
Does poetry deliver the same good stuff as prose?
Of course it does. Let me repeat that Hesse won the Newberry with her poetry novel. Poetry novels tend to emphasize emotions, and the emotional connection between our antagonists and our readers.
See this snippet of review, taken from Amazon, for STOP PRETENDING, by Sonya Sones:
More complex emotions are also explored, such as her irrational suspicion that Sister may be deliberately acting crazy, as poignantly expressed in the title poem: "Stop pretending./ Right this minute./ Don't you tell me/ you don't know me./ Stop this crazy act/ and show me/ that you haven't changed./ Stop pretending/ you're deranged." Gradually, as Sister begins to recover, the girl is able to find hope and again take pleasure in her own life. Blank verse is perfect for a story with such heightened emotion, and is a format that has been used with great success in other fine novels for teens, notably the Newbery-award winning Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, and Robert Cormier's boyhood memoir, Frenchtown Summer. Teen readers may even be so inspired as to try their own hand at this challenging but satisfying form.
Still wonder if poetry is an acceptable form for story telling? Here's another review for MAKE LEMONADE, by Virignia Euewer Wolff.
The tale is told in natural first-person, and in rhythmic prose arranged in open verse. The poetic form emphasizes the flow of the teenager's language and thought. The form invites readers to drop some preconceptions about novels, and they will find the plot and characters riveting. Make Lemonade is a triumphant, outstanding story.
I received a note not long ago from a man who is a grandfather. He wanted to let me know that his teenage granddaughter, who didn't like reading, and had never before willingly read a book on her own, had just finished reading my book cover to cover. It was the first book she had ever read and completed, entirely for pleasure. He credited the poetry format as one of the main reasons she was able to approach the book with an open mind and keep on reading. He cited the poetry form as unintimidating and inviting, a form that allowed her to turn the page and not feel defeated at the mass of words waiting to be read. He thanked me and said he hoped I would write more poetry novels in the future for readers like her.
I can't tell you how many notes I have received along the same lines. Many people have told me they love the poetry novel format and hope I'll write more. And ALA put SHARK GIRL on their list of Best Books for Reluctant Readers for 2008.
So....you can reach a widespread audience, of both avid and reluctant readers, and everyone in between. You could inspire others to try poetry!
What more could you ask for, as an author?