Friday, February 6, 2009

Goddamned Poets. Always Thinking They're So Artistic and Poetical... Why, In My Day...

I was wondering if I could pick your big brain about novels in verse...Specifically YA novels in verse. I have only just discovered them and have read some knockouts. (I Heart You, You Haunt Me, Far From You, and What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know).
What are your feelings about novels in verse? Is there a market for them right now?
They're cool, but can be harder to sell. A wide segment of the population is vaguely (or even pointedly) suspicious of poetry. This makes little sense to me personally; I think poetry is wonderful. But you can't discount it.

Some people look at poetry and see that it can serve a more focused approach toward language; it can be fun; it can be beautiful; it can be moving; and as it takes up more space than it does time, it can be very accessible to kids who don't want to sit through a whole novel.

But other people don't know what to think about poetry. Why doesn't it just speak and/or format itself like normal writing? (Is it because the author is pretentious and thinks she's better than me?) Why is there all this damn white space on the pages? (Is it because the author is lazy and didn't want to write a whole novel?) Why is some of this stuff so oblique, forcing me to think about it or even guess at what it means? (The only reason an author would want to say something in a way that the reader can't follow is if the author doesn't like the reader, right?)

So many people end up suspecting (or even feeling quite sure) that writers of poetry are pretentious, lazy jerks who dislike the people who read their poetry. These people need a gentle welcome to the idea of a novel in verse.
How edgy can they be?
YA is getting edgier and edgier. As long as it's not edgy for the sake of edgy, I say go for it.
Should they be in first person?
Who cares?
What is the general word count?
Ask Amazon.
How do I format the thing when Word wants capitals and proper punctuation?
Good question. Do your best.

22 comments:

Deirdre Mundy said...

Re: Formatting Verse--

Turn off the grammar checker and the auto-correct... it's under the "tools" menu, I think....

Anonymous said...

EA is back, yippee!

I will confess I'm not a fan of novels in verse. And funny, I never considered them to be "poetry." I guess because to me a poem is a page or less, not a whole book.

I find them off-putting, not because I think the authors are pretentious, but because I've found the format doesn't lend itself to creating deep characters (just my opinion.) I also can't help but to think that it is a fad whose bright light is destined to dim any day now. Like werewovles and vampires.

Criss said...

Re: formatting: There should be an option under Tools (one of those...) to turn off some aspects of the grammar check/auto correct features, so it doesn't automatically capitalize the beginnings of lines/sentences. As for the punctuation, ignore the little green squigglies. They're wrong half the time anyway.

Heather said...

I was actually intimidated by a YA novel written in verse (well it was Crank, so I was intimidated by the verse and the subject matter), but I ended up devouring it within 24 hours it was so amazing.

That said, I passed up the book for three or four years before I decided to suck it up and purchase... and I love to read general poetry.

Sarah Laurenson said...

My issue with YA novels in verse is how hard it is to find them. My niece devours them and I'm stumped for how to tell what books on the shelf are in verse without opening every single one and seeing what's inside.

Thanks for the titles in the question. I'll be looking for those.

I think these might be easier to sell if they were in their own section or had some other method for easily idetifying them.

Sarah Laurenson said...

How do I format the thing when Word wants capitals and proper punctuation?

You can turn off some of those automatic checks. [Tools->Options->Spelling and Grammar]

Kristi(e) said...

Turn off Autoformat to change the automatic capitalization of the each line and grin and bear it for the punctuation marks?

Jolie said...

"How do I format the thing when Word wants capitals and proper punctuation?"

Turn off AutoCorrect. Don't know what that is? Search it in the Help section of Word. You can also turn off your spelling and grammar checker if the squiggly red and green underlining drives you nuts. Easy peasy.

Ellen Hopkins said...

As probably one of the bestselling verse novelists out there right now, I can answer those questions with a "write the book you need to write." Sonya Sones's books are a lot shorter than mine, but mine are 65,000 words, or about the same as an average YA novel (thicker books, obviously). I write edgy. I write first person (and my readership cares!). Verse novel is definitely a tougher sell, and it is NOT just about breaking up prose into short lines, so if you don't write poetry already, write your novel in prose!

Heidi Ayarbe said...

Try reading Ellen Hopkins -- a master of verse novels -- edgy, real characters that will take your breath away.

Word said...

Interesting question and post.

I think there is something inherently "highbrow" about poetry. Sort of in the same way that art appreciation might be considered. In that way, I think there are people who would shy away from books of this sort because they might not feel confident in understanding it or may feel that it would be "work" to read it.

On another note, I found it interesting when I was watching the Obama inaugeration - There was a professor who read a wonderfully fabulous poem. Very thoughful and beautiful. Yet, the applause she received was subdued (in my opinion). I wondered why that was - when the message was so beautiful. Perhaps, because many were still trying to analyze it rather than enjoy it. Maybe the crowd didn't pick up on the nuances - much in the same way that I would never pick up on the nuances of what some consider great masterpieces of art.

emmadarwin said...

Do your best. And start with Word, by switching off all the bossy stuff which wants to correct your writing, but hasn't been taught when rules should be kept, when bent, when broken. It's good enough for business letters. It's not good enough for writers.

plumbelieve said...

A Story of Verse

Words
on a page
can be lonely
if placed only
to fill space.

Space
is exactly the
part of verse
telling the
true story.

Story
allows the eye
to meet the ear
and soon leads
to the heart.

Heart
gives ownership
to the reader
finally releasing
the writer.

Verse becomes the story.



I like the idea of novels in verse. The forced economy of words creates a true bare bones story line without clutter to mess up the space. If only our real lives followed such a pattern.

Peni Griffin said...

Don't use Word. It's a crap program, written for people who want to program rather than type, but which doesn't let even them see what they've coded. I insist on using WordPerfect, which will do absolutely anything you want it to, lets you choose whether you'd rather program or type, and which lets you open up the hood and look at the actual code, so that you can (for instance) delete a coding error rather than pile new codes on top of it till you get something you want. I'm sure there are other word processors that will also do as you say better than Word does. When you have to send the document to some poor benighted soul who thinks Word is a usable program, format your .wpd to .rtf and it'll work.

But whatever program you use, take the time to learn to use it! I'm always shocked at the way people let their programs boss them around and can't do the simplest things. I've known office workers who didn't know how to set their tabs. It works for you, not the other way around. Don't let it whip you.

Jo said...

I think writing in verse would work really well (if you have an aptitude for and desire to write it) for YA books especially the edgier ones. Short, crisp bites of words. And I think you can pretty deep with it.

mb said...

Yes, and when Word tries to tell you that "dialogue" is spelled "dialog", do not believe it!!!

Lisa Schroeder said...

I agree with EA - they are a harder sell. And they are harder to write! As the author of two of the titles mentioned, I can tell you that although teens overall seem to like them (they are great for reluctant readers, and in fact I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME made the 2009 YALSA quick picks list) I've been criticized for not being poetic enough. It's hard. Damn hard! Yeah, I know, all writing is. But with verse novels, you not only have to tell a story, you have to be poetic while doing it.

As for word count, I HEART YOU ended up at about 15,000 words and FAR FROM YOU at about 19,000. But like any book - don't get hung up on word count. Write the book until it's done.

working illustrator said...

Anonymous 12:29 said: the format doesn't lend itself to creating deep characters

Not a kids' book by any means, but Fredy Neptune by the Australian poet Les Murray is a verse novel with amazing character work. Amazing just in general, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Ellen Hopkins, if you're still reading this...verse novels rule!

My son who was turned
off from school and life
discovered your books
and devoured them like
his favorite Burger King
bacon double cheeseburger,
leaving not one crumb.
He read your books standing
up at Barnes & Noble,
forgetting time,
forgetting himself,
amazed at how you captured
his life as it was:
awful and wonderful,
and all that he had.

(now he's doing great, studying pre-law at college, and still when he sees a new book by you, he devours it)

thank you.

jen-lehmann said...

Speaking as a teacher, I love novels in verse. They're not for every child, but what book is? If you can get a child interested in poetry young enough, then they won't grow up to be an adult who's afraid of it. I've seen it happen, and I've seen Sharon Creech's Love That Dog convince reluctant readers to read and then beg the librarian for more poetry.

Also, from the school perspective, with the increasing domination of programs like Accelerated Reader, it's nice to have poetry options that can be quizzed. It's much easier if there's a storyline instead of a collection of poems.

Colorado Writer said...

Thanks for the enlightening answer, plus these comments rock!

*bowing down to Lisa and Ellen...*

Jessica Burkhart said...

Great post, EA. Love Ellen and Lisa's work. :)