Novels in Verse: Let’s Talk

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.

10 Responses

  1. Hurrah–great way to start Sep­tem­ber, with a straight-shoot­ing com­ment. And a bul­l’s-eye hit. (For the unini­ti­at­ed, that’s a metaphor.)


  2. Hooray for you, Nik­ki. For years I’ve termed a lot of
    this type of writ­ing ‘Prose-etry!’ Few books of this
    so called genre have noth­ing to do with Poetry.

  3. I can’t say that I’ve ever read a nov­el in verse. I’ve read some so-called nov­els in verse, but I’m with you; they’re bro­ken up prose. I’ve become so annoyed with them that I’ve come to a cou­ple of conclusions.
    1. If you want to write poet­ry, write poet­ry. If you want to write a nov­el, write a novel.
    2. Try­ing to com­bine the two seems a cheap way to write a very thin book w/o going to the trou­ble of devel­op­ing char­ac­ter, plot, etc. Or as Nik­ki says, metaphor, sim­i­le, etc. Writ­ing a nov­el is hard work. Writ­ing good poet­ry is hard wor. Writ­ing a quick­ie book that looks like poetry–ehh–not so much.

  4. Hi Nik­ki,

    I do not agree since I have seen nov­els writ­ten in vers­es beau­ti­ful­ly, and they are poems and tell sto­ries. There were sev­er­al poets who wrote their books in Per­sian which tells hun­dreds of his­tor­i­cal and myth­i­cal sto­ries in vers­es. SHAKESPEARE was anoth­er poet who wrote his sto­ries in verses.


  5. Hi Nik­ki
    Thanks for the enlight­ment. I just print­ed my first book, “Who’s the Best Rap­per? Big­gie, Jay‑Z or Nas,” a book where I use rap lyrics as a medi­um to increase lit­er­a­cy and teach coun­sel­ing skills to those who don’t read often but lis­ten to rap music. I was excit­ed about this post because in the book I demon­strate why rap lyrics are poems, and I do this by pro­vid­ing exam­ples of many of the con­cepts of peop­try that you men­tioned. I can imag­ine how busy you may be, butI would be hon­ored if I could send you a copy of my book to be reviewed. Thanks

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