The idea of telling a story through verse is nothing new. Think back to high school English class and Homer’s epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."
This month's edition of Book Club, a literary discussion series produced by Colorado Matters, award-winning Colorado authors Peter Heller, Lisa Jones and Helen Thorpe discuss the evolution of narrative poetry, which has come back in recent years as novels in verse for young adult readers.
Before reading from Derek Walcott’s “The Schooner Flight,” a poem steeped in the tradition of epic poetry, Heller gives the group a history lesson.
“The interesting thing about the origin of long, narrative poems is that originally it had utility. It was a mnemonic device,” says Heller. “So that bards, as they went around – Greece, say – and told these epic tales, they used the structure and the rhyme scheme of the poetry to help them remember.”
Jones discusses “Safekeeping” by Abigail Thomas, a memoir written in prose, but with the brevity and pace of a collection of poems.
“It’s almost like she wrote a full memoir, and then took out all the filler,” says Jones. “And just left us with tiny, beautiful vignettes.”
An avid reader of young adult fiction, Thorpe discusses novels in verse, book length stories that happen to be written in verse. Thorpe describes the genre as “'The Odyssey’ meets hip hop,” and has provided a list of some of her favorite examples:
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
- “Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse
- “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander
- “Because I Am Furniture” by Thalia Chaltas
- “One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies” by Sonya Sones
Peter Heller’s latest novel, "The Painter," was released last year, and he’s also the author of the best-selling novel "The Dog Stars."
Lisa Jones is the author of the memoir “Broken: A Love Story." She teaches private writing classes in Boulder and Denver.
Helen Thorpe’s non-fiction books include “Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America,” and “Soldier Girls,” which was released last year.