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April 14, 2017

Poetry Friday--Got a Book Group?

I belonged to a library book discussion group a decade or so ago, and for the last ten years I've been on a committee that reads recently published books for adults for possible inclusion in book discussion kits in New Hampshire. (If you're interested in our work, click here.)

A short article online titled, "How To Host A Poetry Book Club, Because It's Time To Make This A Part Of Your Reading," got me thinking about how, with over 170 kits, and hundreds more books read for consideration, we've never read a book of poetry, nor a novel in verse. How is that so?

There are a number of reasons, but the most obvious one is adults are afraid of poetry. The blame, of course, can be placed squarely on high school English classes and the study of poems where the only concern is "analyzing" the poem for meaning and themes. Mention the word "metaphor" and adults wince.

Another reason is that discussion group participants tend to prefer fiction. Despite the plethora of novels in verse for children and young adults, there aren't a whole lot being published for adult audiences. One, from the 1990s is Cora Fry's Pillow Book, which was written by Rosellen Brown, a writer best known as a novelist. I remember reading it and not being bothered at all by its format--poems. It was just like reading a novel.

Another book, this one from the last decade, is Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. This title has two, too many strikes against it to be embraced by book discussion groups: 1. it's written in poems, and 2. it doesn't have average-book-group appeal. Here's a description from the book's publisher:

An ancient race of lycanthropes has survived to the present day, and its numbers are growing as the initiated convince L.A.'s down and out to join their pack. Paying no heed to moons, full or otherwise, they change from human to canine at will--and they're bent on domination at any cost. Caught in the middle are Anthony, a kind-hearted, besotted dogcatcher, and the girl he loves, a female werewolf who has abandoned her pack. Anthony has no idea that she's more than she seems, and she wants to keep it that way. But her efforts to protect her secret lead to murderous results.
Yikes! This would be an impossible sell to a book group that loved Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society! For some groups, the slightly quirky Where'd You Go, Bernadette is too out-there!

So, I'd like to know if you've read any recently published (2016 or newer), highly discussable, verse novels written for adults? If so, please write the titles in the comments. Many thanks!

Check out the Round-Up being held at Dori Reads--you'll be glad you did!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sorry, early morning spelling error. My comment is that you are so cool! I have no contribution to your quest other than fandom.

  3. I just had my book group discussion last night, Diane and we had a wonderful talk about Gaiman's The Ocean at The End of the Lane. We do tend to stick to past novels that have had wide appeal, like All The Light You Cannot See. I am fairly new to this group and I have noticed that the other issue is that most want to be sure they can get the book from the library instead of purchasing. I certainly can propose a poetry book, and perhaps one of the YA ones I've read, but I don't know an adult verse novel to share. One other idea might be is a book of essays? We have also read n-f like Coates' Between The World & Me. How wonderful that your library prepares those kits!

  4. Sorry, no suggestions for you, but I think it's a great idea to look for adult verse novels. Now I'm intrigued by Cora Fry's Pillow Book. :)

  5. Diane, What an intriguing notion. I had not realized this. I'm guessing there are adult poetry book groups somewhere. Have to put on my thinking cap. Maybe in Boston, which I think of as a poetry place... In the meantime, will ask a coupla places where I know keeping-up-with-new-titles poetry people hang out. It's a great question & I'm glad you asked it. I also look forward to following your links.

  6. I was actually wondering recently if there were verse novels for adults. Obviously I have nothing to offer, but I am curious.

  7. Diane, I am always fascinated by your wonderings. Sadly to say, I have no entries for you.

  8. What a great post! I love the question you pose. I believe that some YA novels in verse would be very good for grown ups. I rec Caminar by Skila Brown and Like Water on Stone by Dana Walwrath. Both are of very difficult times --- one in Guatamala and one in Armenia. Especially with the upcoming movie, The Promise, Walwrath's book is very poignant. Thanks for the article!

  9. Hmm...I guess I never realized that my book club has a similar hole in our choices. How about Loving vs Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell?

    1. ...and then my other question would be, has your club read any graphic novels? Adults are also afraid of/don't value/don't like that format...as much or more than poetry...

      I challenge your group to read the March trilogy!

  10. Great reflection, Diane! I don't know if a verse novel for adults would fly in my book club, but personally, I'd love to read one. Until you pointed it out, I hadn't even realized that I hadn't done so! From the comments, it sounds like there aren't too many out there. Perhaps this could be your next project? ;)

  11. I spent too many years in the world of YA to know of many adult novels, much less novels in verse for adults. I do know that Ellen Hopkins has written several novels in verse for adult audiences, but I haven't read them to know anything about them.

  12. Do adults never read books for kids? How sad a statement that is. How do our inner children find peace if we never look back?

    As for adults being afraid of poetry. Yes! They sure are.

    As for high school analysis making people afraid to write poetry, my son is going through that now, and of course one is scared to give birth to a poem, knowing how it will be dissected. He's a bit traumatized. He'd rather write than dissect, and I can't blame him. Yet if you cannot dissect, you cannot truly understand how to use poetic techniques yourself, can you?

    I wish you luck. I don't know of any adult verse novels. That is food for thought, right there.

  13. I've never been in a book club that discussed poetry, but my writing group usually starts each meeting with a poem, chosen by someone in the group. Maybe a book group would be more open to that - tackling poetry a little at a time?

  14. If it's a group of women, I'd suggest The Woman in this Poem, collection by Georgia Heard. It's not a novel, but the poems are collected by theme and they are all wonderfully accessible and discussable.

  15. I have not read this, but have read the info and some pages on Amazon and it looks really good: Audacity by Melanie Crowder. I've been wanting to get into a novel in verse. This may be my first.