Writing Life 12
I've been reading a few books by Mel Glenn (read the list of titles on the Notches list below and to the right) for an upcoming visit. I was first introduced to this subgenre of story in poetry form when I read Virginia Euwer Wolff's novel Make Lemonade. I was so excited by the book that I couldn't wait to read her True Believer (which wasn't as strong, I felt, as the first book, but this has to do more with the story than the form). My mistake was not finding out that others have done the same: Sonya Sones, Sharon Creech (I love Love that Dog!), Juan Felipe Herrera, and a handful of others. What I thought of Wolff's book (and this subgenre in general) was that if a writer's going to describe the book with any of the following tags, that the book has to fit the description to a T: a novel "in verse," "in poetry," or some such. It's got to work as poetry. It can't just appear on the page as poetry, that is, short lines that simply mimick the form. There's got to be a reason beyond wanting to write in that style. Otherwise, it reads like a gimmick. The stuff doesn't have to include poetic devices through out, but it's got to read like poetry. It's got to distinguish itself from prose. It can't be prose cut into short lines. (I've tried doing that with one of my novels and the process served only to make my manuscript longer, so I stuck to prose.) Now, with Wolff, why Lemonade works as poetry is not because of the various devices available to the poet but because of the narrator's voice: we are getting LaVaugn's story directly from her brain, it seems, and because we are right in her head, we get to hear how she thinks, which is quick and rhythmic. In addition, the imagery Wolff uses is very-very poetically visual. Creech does something different with Love that Dog: in this book, the narrator is literally learning the craft, and so readers get to enjoy various of the devices along with Jack. Plus his voice is very distinct. I don't find this to be the case with Herrera and Glenn. I'm partway through Cinammon Girl and am enjoying it more than his Downtown Boy (which I also comment on my Notches list). Though I haven't finished it yet, I can say that I'm enjoying it more due to the story, but it could be told as prose, too. With Glenn, I've only this morning finished another of his titles: Room 114: and more of it reads like poetry than the other of his books I've read. Now, in Split Image there were certain sections that were pure poetry (as with Herrera), and those sections had to do with the emotion being expressed by that particular narrator. In other words, when the students are opening up, but deep down kind of stuff, there was poetry. Otherwise, much of the rest can be told in prose. All I know is this: it's a tough thing to get right, and I certainly am not up to the task. I'm glad these folks are taking that chance and put themselves out there for this sort of criticism.