I am tremendously psyched that this has proven to be a genre with legs, at least in the children’s book market where I ply my trade. When a publisher at the last ALA told me that librarians were actively seeking novels in this format, my little heart went pitter-patter. However, before a writer decides to jump on this particular bandwagon, may I suggest that non-poets need not apply.
Now, on the surface, that statement might seem obvious or an overstatement. However, I’ve come across a number of so-called novels in verse that are anything but. It seems that someone has floated the notion that anything that looks like a poem is, in fact, a poem. With that in mind, they create a collection of short pieces that may quite competently tell a story, but which are not, in fact, poems. Rather, they are what I call broken prose. That is to say, prose shaped on the page to resemble poetry. How can you tell the difference, you ask? That’s easy. You can read page after page after page without once encountering a metaphor, a simile, assonance, consonance, internal rhyme, meter, or any other poetic element. Here you will find no sestina, tanka, sonnet, haiku. There will, in fact, be nothing that constitutes an actual poem. I’m just saying.
Does this distinction matter? Well, if you are a poet it does. If you are an educator seeking to introduce students to an authentic novel in verse it does. If you are a reader excited about poetry, and interested in learning about the possibilities of using authentic poetry to tell a story, this distinction matters. So, you decide.
For myself, if I crack the spine of a book that purports to be written in poetry, I’m looking for poetry. Anything less is a let-down.