I have a new literary love – the verse novel. This is kind of surprising for me because I’ve never really been into poetry but the verse novel is kind of a different beast! My first experience was a ripper – Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask. The beauty of Porter’s work is you kind of don’t notice that it’s poetry – there’s a murder mystery, lesbian sex and an improper student/professor relationship. And the wonderful thing – a trait of most verse novels – is the subtext within which the reader’s mind can roam. Children’s verse novels have been a revelation to me. They are exquisite works of art where story and character can shine. In recent times I have enjoyed Australian authors Steven Herrick, Kathryn Apel and Sally Murphy, and international writers Jen Bryant, Kwame Alexander and Virginia Euwer Wolff.
In June, I did a Verse Novel course with Lisa Jacobson at The Wheeler Centre. Lisa’s verse novel The Sunlit Zone was published by Five Islands Press in 2012. It is a haunting tale of grief and marine biology. So inspired by Lisa, I have a few scribblings that may represent the beginning of a verse novel for kids and I’m seriously considering going back to uni to have the benefit of some poetry coaching.
Lisa started by discussing what makes a verse novel:
- It’s book length
- It has a narrative story
- It uses poetic forms which might include free verse, sonnets, rhythm, internal rhymes, recurring imagery or metaphors
Lisa says – and this is what I find so engaging about verse novels – that it’s okay to leave holes.
‘We want to create an imaginary space in which the reader can climb,’ she says.
Lisa’s checkpoints for revision:
- Check the beginning and ending lines of each poem – they need a currency.
- Are there any flat lines that aren’t working hard enough?
- Are there any clunky rhythms?
- Eliminate the clichés
- Is the voice still strong – does it sound like the narrator or you?
- Are the line breaks in the right spots?
- Is punctuation consistent
Is anyone else out there having a go at this tantalising form – I’d love to hear from you 🙂