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Guest Post: Novelists Who Are Poets Too

When setting up the National Poetry Month Blog Tour, a number of bloggers were eager to participate, including Valerie from Life Is a Patchwork Quilt. Today, I’m turning over the blog to her as she discusses some novelists that she recently discovered also wrote poetry. I hope you’ll share with her and me some of the novelists you know that also write poetry.

It is not a great surprise to us that many past and present authors in the literary world have have written both poetry and prose. A writer throughout his or her literary career prefers, often times, one or the other form. Sometimes a writer chooses one path because of personal preference. Sometimes it is for good reason — they are better writers than poets, or vice-versa. Or, sometimes success in one field or the other is simply due to a matter of timing or circumstances.

Today, let’s look at a few people of whom we are probably more familiar with as writers, but also published poetry. I’ll present them in chronological order.

There’s the Brontë Sisters: Charlotte (1816-1855); Emily (1818-1848); and Anne (1820-1849). In 1846, and under pseudonyms, the sisters published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. After only two copies sold, the Brontës then concentrated on writing novels, with more successful results. Unfortunately, all three sisters died young, so they produced only a few novels and their poetry for us to persue.

The Brontës lived during the Romantic Era, the same time period of the works of Lord Byron, John Keats, and others. Death and yearning are a common theme in most of the Brontë poems — therefore, their poetry may not be everyone’s cup of tea. What follows is a typical example of Brontë poetry.

The Old Stoic by Emily Brontë

Riches I hold in light esteem;

And Love I laugh to scorn;

And lust of fame was but a dream

That vanished with the morn:

And if I pray, the only prayer

That moves my lips for me

Is, ” Leave the heart that now I bear,

And give me liberty !”

Yes, as my swift days near their goal,

‘Tis all that I implore;

In life and death, a chainless soul,

With courage to endure.

Some sources available for Brontë poetry: Project Gutenberg has Poems by Ellis, Currer and Acton Bell ; a PDF format , by Pennsylvania State University. In print: Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters, Dover Thrift Editions (not all poems from the original 1848 publication are included).

When I was recently reading Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), I was intrigued that he had some poetry published in addition to his novels. Hemingway was known for his minimalist writing style in his novels, and I feel that it did not transfer as well in his poetry. Yet, during his lifetime, his poetry was published in Poetry Magazine and other publications, and in his Three Stories and Ten Poems. A modern source of Hemingway poems is Complete Poems: Ernest Hemingway by editor Nicholas Gerogiannis (University of Nebraska Press, revised edition 1992).

As follows is one of Hemingway’s better poems, published in Poetry Magazine in January 1923. In that issue, Hemingway was introduced as a young Chicago poet who was at the time abroad in Paris.

Chapter Heading

By Ernest M. Hemingway 1899–1961

For we have thought the longer thoughts

And gone the shorter way.

And we have danced to devils’ tunes,

Shivering home to pray;

To serve one master in the night,

Another in the day.

(formatting source: Poetry Foundation)

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John Updike (1932-2009) wrote many novels (including the Rabbit Angstrom series and Witches of Eastwick) during his productive career, and regularly published volumes of poetry. Collected Poems 1953-1993 includes all his poetry volumes published up to that point; and his later poetry volumes were Americana and Other Poems (2001), and Endpoint and Other Poems (2009).

As with his books, Updike’s poetic subjects were wide-ranging. He could shift from writing about sports to poems of place (Spain, Brazil) to poems with more traditional topics (such as nature). If one is in the mood for light verse –but with more depth — then Updike’s poetry might be appreciated. Many of Updike’s poems are laced with humor (but be warned: a few are quite earthy; such as “The Beautiful Bowel Movement”; some refer to sex).

Here is one poem by Updike:

Painted Wives, by John Updike (Collected Poems 1953-1993)

Soot, house-dust, and tar didn’t go far

With implacably bathing Madame Bonnard;

Her yellowish skin has immortally been

Turned mauve by the tints she was seen floating in.

Prim, pensive, and wan, Madame Cezanne

Posed with her purple-ish clothes oddly on;

Tipped slightly askew, and outlined in blue,

She seems to be hearing, “Stop moving, damn you!”

All lilac and cream and pink self-esteem,

Young Madame Renoir made the sheer daylight dream;

In boas of air, without underwear,

She smiles through the brushstrokes at someone still there.

Some online sources for more poetry by Updike: Updike poems at The Poetry Foundation , Requiem (at NYT) , poets.org.

Finally, I present a living poet and novelist: Laura Kasischke. I was first introduced to Laura Kasischke’s works when I lived in Michigan — in fact, her son and my older son were in the same cub-scout den. Our local library carried all of her works, and eventually I acquired some of her novels and poetry for myself. At that time, I had the feeling that Laura Kasischke was primarily known as a poet rather than as a novelist. But, over the past couple years, as I started following book blogs, I noticed that blog reviews focused on Kasischke’s more recent novels (In a Perfect World, 2009; and The Raising, 2011), rather than her poetry.

Kasischke has written several volumes of poetry; her most recent (Space, In Chains, March 2011) was published this year. Based on what I’ve read of Kasischke’s recent poetry, my impression is that she may be evolving into using shorter, sparer verse today than her earlier works that includes Gardening in the Dark (2004). Following is a short excerpt from “Speeding Ticket”, from Gardening in the Dark.

Excerpt from “Speeding Ticket” by Laura Kasischke; Gardening in the Dark

Truly, I wanted only

to appear to obtain such grace, and then

through the years somehow I became

a high brick wall fully expecting

the little blue flowers to thrive in my shade.

Kasischke is currently in the April 2011 issue of Poetry Magazine, and some of these poems (and earlier poems by her) are at their website (Poetry Foundation). Other online sources of Kasischke poetry are here: Poetry Daily and Poetry Daily 3/8/2011.

In conclusion, I have covered only a few novelists-as-poets here. They all range in style, and possibly, talent. Please share with us any novelists-as-poets that you know about!

Thanks to Serena for allowing me to write a guest post for Savvy Verse and Wit during National Poetry Month 2011. It was a pleasure to write on the topic of novelists as poets (or vice versa).

Thanks, Valerie, for exposing us to more poetry. I do want to add that the Brontë sisters also had a poetic brother, and you can learn more about his poetry and theirs in my review of The Brontës by Pamela Norris.

So, we’re wondering which novelists you know write poetry or which poets do you know that write novels?

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  • I had no idea Hemingway wrote poetry. Very interesting post!
    Anna´s last blog post ..Review- Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

  • Oh, another great novelist, essayist and poet is Herta Muller: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herta_M%C3%BCller

    She recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • Book Dilettante

    Maxine Hong Kingston, author, has just published a memoir in verse – I Like a Broad Margin to My Life.

  • What an interesting post! It seems like some people get all the good genes! :–) Thanks for the enlightening info Valerie!
    rhapsodyinbooks´s last blog post ..Review of “Zero Day” by Mark Russinovich

  • Valerie

    Thanks again, Serena, for having me on your blog.

    It was good to be reminded about Bramwell Bronte!

    I’ll have to look into ee cumming’s autobiography. I know he was an artist as well — I came across an book of his paintings but didn’t buy it at the time because of the expense. I guess he was a “renaissance man”!
    Valerie´s last blog post ..Guest Post- Novelists Who are Poets Too- and Today’s Event

  • Ooh, lovely post — I hadn’t realized Hemingway wrote poetry!
    Audra´s last blog post ..Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth

  • One of my favorite cross-overs is E.E. Cummings. We all know him for his poetry, but I absolutely love autobiographical novel The Enormous Room. The language in it is very poetical in itself, as would be expected. For those not familiar, The Enormous Room chronicles the time Cummings spent imprisoned in France during World War I. It’s a beautiful study of humanity in the most inhumane conditions. I highly recommend it!
    Julie @ Read Handed´s last blog post ..An Evening with Les Standiford

    • Wow that is a good one to point out. I love EE Cummings poetry, but have not read the autobiographical novel! Thanks for the great recommendation.

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  • Great post! It is surprising how many authors are poets and vice versa.