All in Verse Week
Stories well told have the power to open our eyes and enlarge our hearts. They’re kind of magic that way. We wander into the world of a story and emerge changed—sometimes in small ways, and sometimes big, with lasting impressions that shape how we think and feel about the world and our experiences in it.
(Related: How has it been five years already?)
Not to neglect Old English and Geoffrey Chaucer’s raucous and rowdy tales of those on a pilgrimage, I must mention those monks of olden days who told tales that to this day make us smirk and smile. In verse, Chaucer painted tales of the good folk who laughed about and flaunted their rowdy and raucous adventures.
I understand this prejudice, this preconception that poetry is difficult. I understand it, but I disagree. I think poetry takes a big, emotional idea and distills it into a few potent stanzas. It packs a lot of force in its compressed punch, and therefore, it hits the readers' feels hard.
While fiction is a meandering walk, poetry is a sprint. When it's good, at the end, you should feel breathless and sweaty. Your heart should beat wildly.
Reading about people getting hooked on drugs and terrible things happening seemed about as interesting as listening to a friend tell you about that totally awesome trip they had once. But I saw her speak at the Montgomery County Book Festival, and she spoke very passionately and personally about the books she writes. I chose to read her 2009 release, Tricks, because the sequel, Traffick, is coming out this November.
Part of my aversion to verse novels can be attributed to my first experience, which was Crank by Ellen Hopkins. The angsty, dramatic, dark story of addiction that is perennially popular with teenagers didn’t appeal to me at all.
just seemed so
The line breaks
(Granted, this is a very good problem—so many great verse novels out there!)
First, the caveat:
I’m not saying prose novels can’t deepen emotion, of course they can—and do. I’m just saying this was my experience in the verse novel writing process.
Okay, I feel better getting that off my chest. Now, let’s talk about exposure. Say, for instance, you wrote a verse novel. One that started out more prose-like. Perhaps it had a particular voice that you explored while getting your masters in creative writing, if you will. And let’s imagine that as you combed through the scenes and fine-tuned the story, you pared back the language—just playing around during your time in Higher Education. It could happen. And, maybe as you dabbled in voice and tone, words fell away. A sparseness happened. What’s that all about? You thought, while typing away in your writer cave. What just happened to my story?
The Nakedness. That’s what.
When Sarah asked if I’d like to write a post for her fourth VERSE NOVEL celebration, I started reflecting on how the genre has fared between the publication of THE SOUND OF LETTING GO this past February and 2011, when I launched my YA debut, AUDITION. Here are a few of my personal thoughts and observations:
I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump since last year when I read Love and Leftovers for this very blog. So imagine my surprise when I managed to finish Far From You by Lisa Schroeder in nearly two hours. The novel flows together so seamlessly that I was surprised when it ended.
Like it or not, our kids take drugs, self-harm, think about suicide, get abused, suffer from mental illness, are victims and perpetrators of violence, and lose friends. All of these dark topics are suitable for young readers, but may need to be presented in subtler ways than in adult literature. Verse is a way of achieving that. Its reliance on metaphor, sparse language, and contained form allow these issues to be explored without overwhelming the readers with heaviness.
Take sex for example. Not a dark theme (it’s fun and healthy!) but one that frequently raises eyebrows in relation to books for young readers. But again, like it or not, young people, teenagers, even pre-teens have sex drives and sex lives. Many YA books have a “fade to black” policy when it comes to sex. Characters might have sex, but rarely are the scenes depicted in any detail.
You ever laughed so hard
nobody in the world could hurt you for a minute,
no matter what they tried to do to you?
Viginia Euwer Wolff's groundbreaking novel, written in free verse, tells the story of fourteen-year-old LaVaughn, who is determined to go to college--she just needs the money to get there.
When she answers a babysitting ad, LaVaughn meets Jolly, a seventeen-year-old single mother with two kids by different fathers. As she helps Jolly make lemonade out of the lemons her life has given her, LaVaughn learns some lessons outside the classroom.
Fan Art didn’t start off that way. It began as a short story in verse, and later turned into a proposal for a novel. But the day after my editor said, “Yes, we’d be interested,” I received a second phone call. In order to reach more readers, Fan Art was not to be a novel in verse. I understood. A LGBT love story and a verse novel was narrowing the market too much.
Viola leaves war-torn Sudan for a new life in the United States. Such a great story of strength and loss of innocence. Beautiful cover! Beautiful writing!