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kimmar

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I'm wondering if anyone here might be interested in forming a freeverse discussion group. I'm working on a freeverse novel and I'm reading every freeverse novel I can get my hands on. At this time, I'm reading analytically, focusing on four questions (aside from "Do I like this?"):

How does the form serve the story?
What does the form do for the voice?
What are the limitations of the form?
How do the structure and the form interact?

Let me know if anyone's up for this.
Kim



#1 - February 12, 2005, 09:25 AM

Jen K.

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Hey, I'm interested! I have a novel that keeps coming out in free verse even though I'm not sure I want it to. I keep trying to put it back into regular old narrative form but I'm continually drawn back to the other. I'm afraid it's because I do love so much of what I've read.

Recent reads: Stop Pretending, Almost Forever, Heartbeat, What My Mother Doesn't Know, One of those Hideous Books...

I'll think a bit on the form/structure questions, and post again in a bit.
#2 - February 12, 2005, 11:11 AM

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Hi Kimmar and Jen K,

I'm interested as well. My Bebop book --due out at the end of the summer, is made up of both free verse and rhyming poetry. I do think that the more serious of my poems are in free verse, but Sonya Sones is able to pack every kind of emotion  --humor, angst, anger, dispair, hope...into her words. I think it's a matter of the number of words in a line ---for emphasis, use of space and placement and of course word choice. Every word counts --be it to add dimension to the characters, tone, setting... just a few thoughts ;-) I'm also working on a free verse novel --this will be the third one I've written once I (hopefully) finish it.


Andi
#3 - February 13, 2005, 05:36 AM
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Jen K.

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Hey, Andi. Congratulations on your Bebop book! I'm curious though. Is it one of their emergent readers? I noticed that they had some books that rhyme, but hadn't really thought of them as a target market for free verse. Mine's a novel, and I'm not ready to submit, so I haven't researched markets -- I'm curious more than anything.

I love both Sones and Creech. I've been really thinking about the way they interlace the scenes together and transition from one to the next. The free verse style I think ensures that each scene packs an emotional punch. There's a resonance, a rhythm that helps convey the emotion in different way than narrative text. I'm not yet sure I understand how or why it works. Or how it contributes to VOICE?

The use of space on the page is something that fascinates me, since it affects the way I read things, even in my head, and I wonder about how that reinforces the impact. How do you determine the placement? Natural pauses that you want the reader to feel, and does that create the emotion or intensify it?

One thing I'm grappling with is the time frames and plot points. Do they feel as clearly defined to you? Should they? How does it differ from journal style or just regular first person narrative? Would you consider that the form lends itself more to a plot based or a character based book? I'd say the latter. The story arc itself feels less dramatic to me, though the element of inevitable surprise is definitely there in all of the books I've read recently.

I have a blend of rhyme and non-rhyme in mine also. Sones had a few instances of rhyme in each of her novels -- is that still considered free verse? Is it classified differently because it rhymes? 

Just a few random thoughts. I'm up for discussing any particular book. Haven't read that many yet, but am making my way through them.
#4 - February 13, 2005, 08:02 AM

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I think, as with writing in prose, the answers to your questions are all about how you write the book to begin with. Even with prose, if you don't write it correctly, the form won't do diddley squat for the story, character or the voice.
To begin any novel, no matter what form, you have to have a great story/plot and a strong character that will carry through to the end of the book.
With freeverse novels you pretty much have to stick to the barebones of the story.  Freeverse should be lean and mean. Every word, every poem, has to be important but you still have enough of a story that you can make the reader laugh, cry, and care about your mc.
Description of the setting is not necessary, however describing something that affects the mc and his thinking a great deal, is important.
Voice is what freeverse is all about,  because you are really writing one big poem. You want a voice that will grab a reader and hold on to her until the end of the book - even past the end, so she's still thinking about the book when she's done.
Use of space is very important. If you need a word to pack a punch you may want to set it aside from the rest so it stands alone. If your mc is scared or excited you may want to use run on sentences in the same way someone would speak if they were feeling those emotions.
I don't believe time frames and plot points should be handled in any way different than a regular prose novel. If you jump around the reader will be lost in just the same way.
A freeverse novel has to have a character arc to work just the same as a prose novel. And like any novel you have to know what you are trying to say with the book. You have to know what you want your readers to take away from it. Why are you writing it? You have to have conflict and character growth and your mc has to solve his own problem.

Just my thoughts.

Alma
#5 - February 13, 2005, 09:06 AM
« Last Edit: February 13, 2005, 09:15 AM by Amishka »
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Jen,

My book is an emergent reader --13 poems about 700 words total. Not much space to tell a tale, but hopefully because the subject is emotional, it will resound with the reader. I saw that they expressed interest in poetry collections and wrote one with Bebop in mind. By the time I was finished revising with my editor (who's wonderful!) the book became quite different than the one I submitted.

Sones is able to move the plot along so well with each turn of the page. She has a precise story to tell and is able to move the story along as well as enrich it with layers. Can't say I can explain how she accomplishes this, but I see her as a  master at making every poem add to the theme and character of her story. For me that's one of her greatest strengths.

As far as knowing how to place the words on the page --I read everything out loud to hear where the emphasis should be --to understand what will add the most impact and meaning, but on a first draft I try not to worry too much about this. I have to let the story come out --and write itself --allow the characters to tell me what they want to say. That's how it seems to work best for me. More a process of evolution than actual plotting, at least initially. But ultimately, if you're worried about marketing --you better have a strong story arc. Editors are not interested in just wonderful poetry. There has to be a solid story behind your words --emotional resonance and interesting, believable characters. I think when free verse is well done, it distills emotions which is how it packs such power into every word.

I have read a lot of novel in verse --whatever I can find. I read a lot of poetry in general. Reading is the best place to start, as with every kind of writing. Hope I haven't totally confused you :-)

Andi
#6 - February 13, 2005, 09:09 AM
« Last Edit: February 13, 2005, 12:07 PM by Andi W. »
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kimmar

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Andi said: "Editors are not interested in just wonderful poetry. There has to be a solid story behind your words --emotional resonance and interesting, believable characters. I think when free verse is well done, it distills emotions which is how it packs such power into every word."

I agree with this, and that is what I'm hoping to accomplish with my freeverse YA. I know some readers are turned off to the form and, as a result, may choose not to pick up a freeverse book, but I can't let that stop me.

It's interseting that Wolff insists she does not write freeverse poetry, yet her novels are listed as freeverse. There's no doubt about the pure poetry of Sones, imho. Does anyone care to share their thoughts on other books by different freeverse authors? I'm not into bokk-bashing by any means, but I would love to consider why some books might work for some folks and not for others. Let's keep this discussion going.
Kim

#7 - February 14, 2005, 06:47 PM

Charis

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"Some readers are turned off to the form..." Kim, do you mean the form itself or maybe the subject matter of many of the books? I've read articles by teachers and librarians saying many students like them because they aren't long and wordy. Like most books, they aren't going to appeal to everyone but they do seem to be finding their niche and I'm hoping (selfishly) that trend will continue. 

I've read Wolff's interviews and tried to read a few of her books and what she says ABOUT her writing resonates much more with me than the actual books she writes. I can read for a while, appreciating the skill she has, but the stories/characters themselves simply don't draw me on enough to finish them.

Mish, I agree with what you've said and if there's anything I could pinpoint as a "problem area" in the freeverse novels I've read, it's weakness of plot/story arc. I enjoy reading Creech's free verse for the way she strings her words together, but I wonder at the success of these books with so little plot. They are almost exclusively character driven (not always by the child "MC" either) and I wonder what kids actually think of them. It's something I constantly keep in my mind as I write my freeverse novel with a bit of trepidation as to whether I'm succeeding and am relieved that I have astute crit partners who are sure to point it out if I'm not...and a burly inner editor too when it's revision time. Frenchtown Summer is one book I read through and again could appreciate the words and images but it seemed less a story of the MC and more that of his setting/time and the one who actually seems to show growth is the father, not the MC. At least that's how I'm remembering it.

Kim, to sum up what works for me, I love books with motion/movement, an observant eye, unique characters and voice, humor, depth without wallowing, a book that doesn't scream "Issue book!" (doesn't mean it can't have an "issue"). I'm sure I could come up with lots more but I'll stop there for now.

One thing I've noticed when I am working on my freeverse early drafts- there's something about the creative process of freeverse that sidesteps my internal editor more "easily" than my other novelwriting. Has anyone else found that?
#8 - February 15, 2005, 08:31 AM

Jen K.

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I wish I had more than just a minute to post, but Charis I had to respond to your post.

YES! On both points.

That's exactly what I was referring to regarding many free verse books seeming to be more character based than plot driven. You just said it better.  :P

I do struggle with the elements of plot, so maybe I'm analyzing it all wrong. Please jump in and HELP if I'm off base. I look at Love that Dog (which I loved, btw) and the events are compelling. I like the MC's struggle with poetry, and growing acceptance of what happened to Sky, but I don't feel the rise in tension, the buildup -- though there is the denouement, somehow.

In Almost Forever and Stop Pretending, there is a struggle, a big event and certainly, they are filled with emotion, and wonderful writing and a rich voice --  but again, is it the same kind of dramatic arc that you are supposed to see in a novel? The first is a story of a father, a doctor away in Vietnam for 'a year'. How does the MC grow in this novel? And in the second? I guess I see the 'acceptance', or realization aspect, but not the major plot points and dramatic rise in tension. The MC does not make the situation worse and worse... does she?

I know I'll be in the minority, but I didn't make it through the couple of Wolff's 'free verse' books that I tried. I found myself skimming through Make Lemonade. Personal preference, I guess. I'm not sure why.

Regarding the internal editor, that too is baffling me. Since I'm actually a lot nervous about writing poetry, I keep trying to go back to a narrative voice, but the bare bones free verse style is the only one that I end up keeping. It's also the one where I feel like I am 'showing' rather than 'telling'.

Interesting stuff. Thanks everyone for sharing. I do agree that a novel in verse must have the same elements as one that is not in verse -- I'm just not sure I always see them as clearly (likely my failure), and even so, I love most of what I've read.
#9 - February 15, 2005, 10:28 AM
« Last Edit: February 15, 2005, 10:31 AM by Jen K. »

shelly

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Now that Jen K mentioned Love That Dog and Charis asked what kids think of these books, I have to say, my nine-year-old son just read Love That Dog and he hated it. I really hate to say it, but he thought it was "the dumbest book ever." He also read Out of the Dust recently and he liked it okay, but wasn't crazy about it. My eleven-year-old daughter opened Out of the Dust and when she saw the first page, she closed it again and said, "It's weird. I'm not reading it." I tried to convince her to give it a chance, but she had zero interest--until she saw her little brother reading it and the idea of him reading something that she never read ate her up so much, she HAD to read it. (She's the self-appointed Queen Book Worm around here, and she usually insists on being the first to read every single book that enters this abode. Little personality quirk.) Anyhow, after she read it, she thought it was pretty good. SO there's some real live kid opinions for you.

(I feel bad about repeating my son's comment. In general, I don't like to say negative things about any book, if I don't care for it, I don't care for it, but I wouldn't say anything awful about it. But Charis wondered aloud what kids might think of some of these books, and I wanted to give an honest answer and my son had just made that comment just a few days ago, so it was fresh in my mind...Just so you know, I'm not into bashing other people's books and I hope nobody takes offense to his comment.)
#10 - February 15, 2005, 10:36 AM
« Last Edit: February 15, 2005, 11:34 AM by shelly »

WG

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Two freeverse novels that captivated me are Sones' "What My Mother Doesn't Know" and Karen Hesse's "Out of the Dust." I think the form served the stories in both cases for different reasons. With Sones' book, the poetry captured the headiness of first love and dignified it. It had substance and humor, whereas the same story told in prose narration might have been trite or schlocky. The subject and style of Hesse's book is serious & heavy, but the stripped-down freeverse makes it less ponderous at the same time it amplifies the emotional impact. I am amazed that Hesse found as many ways as she did to say " It was dusty. Really dusty." I don't think she would have achieved the same effect with prose narration--it would have been pointlessly repetitive & even silly.

A related aside, has anyone read Vikram Seth's "Golden Gate"? It's an adult rhyming verse novel.

Interesting discussion.
#11 - February 15, 2005, 10:31 AM

Caroline

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I'm with you, Jen.

I also skimmed Wolf's work -- but LOVED What my Mother Doesn't Know and Loose Threads.

Great topic!  :)
#12 - February 16, 2005, 04:08 AM

kimmar

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Just read Split Image by Mel Glenn, and I think the form worked very well here. It's told in multiple POVs and my only slight concern is that there were a number of characters introduced and I came out of the story a few times trying to recall which character was which. He did paint a chilling picture with an interesting, believable take on perceptions and misperceptions. I'd never read any of his books before, but plan to read more!
Kim
#13 - February 16, 2005, 10:15 AM

Charis

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Kim,

Nikki Grimes' Bronx Masquerade was that way too with its classful of students writing poetry. But I liked it and found it interesting to see how the writing of the various characters was done. I wonder how long it would take me to write poems from so many different people...yikes! Fun though...

WG, have you read Hesse's Aleutian Sparrow? I thought it was beautifully written and its lyricism contrasted with the events of the story in such an interesting way. Your comment about the dusty repetition reminds me of Hesse's Stowaway. By the time I got to the midway point I was bored, thinking that the pages were all accounting the same ship activities over and over...then I realized that was the reality of ship travel then. Can't say it made for pull-me-along reading but it was masterful in creating the emotions in the reader that must have often been in those actually living/working on a ship. Or maybe I'm just wierd.  :werd

There's a free verse novel out about the Lindbergh kidnapping trial set in the N. J. county where I used to live and I'd like to read it. Has anyone read it?

#14 - February 16, 2005, 12:39 PM

kimmar

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Charis, I've heard of that Linbderg book but haven't read it. Maybe someone else can chime in on that.

I know this has been mentioned in previous posts, but I'd like to bring up plot structure again in freeverse novels, as today my WIP is feeling plotless :(. Just a bit of background... I was 30,000 words into this novel in prose before I started writing freeverse from my mcs pov as a way to better get into her head. She likes talking to me this way it seems, so the prose is on the backburner, with the key scenes being rewritten in freeverse. I was feeling stuck when I switched, so it's likely my plot wasn't fully developed in prose either, but I do want to make sure that the actions of my mc move the story forward, initiating reactions, etc. I'm not sure any of you have analzed freeverse novels in serach of the precise points where a particular poem shows such plot points, but that's what I want to explore as I read. If anyone does have examples, I'd love to hear them.
Kim
#15 - February 17, 2005, 07:40 AM

WG

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Kimmar, I don't have the two books I mentioned in front of me, so I can't analyze the specific language. But I can tell you that there are key action moments in each novel. The action is not contained in one poem--more like a series of 5-6-- each one revealing a bit more incrementally & expanding on the mc's emotions. But--and this is what I think is critical to advancing the plot--the action represented is unresolved or points to more questions. So, for example, in "What My Mother Doesn't Know,"the mc attends a costume dance & is approached by a masked man. In a series of poems she dances with him, says goodbye, realizes she never found out his identity, goes in search of him & doesn't find him but is harrassed by some jerky, drunken boys. And then her mother picks her up & they have a fight (subplot). So the identity of the stranger is left unresolved & contrasts nicely with the jerky boys & the fight with Mom. In "Out of he Dust," a series of poems reveal a terrible accident involving the mc's mother (I don't want to give away too much). Each poem elaborates a little more on the other, both the specifics of what happened and the mc's state of mind. It's very gripping--like watching a train wreck in slow motion. But, again, there is no immediate resolution. And the subplot (or co-plot) of the dust storms raging parallel the personal grief at the heart of the story. In both books, if my memory is correct, these key events that I have just described happen in the middle of their respective narratives.

Charis, I did read Aleutian Sparrow & liked it a lot. I also loved Stowaway. I didn't read it in one sitting; I took a brief break in the middle. Hesse is one of my favorite authors.

#16 - February 17, 2005, 10:51 AM


There's a free verse novel out about the Lindbergh kidnapping trial set in the N. J. county where I used to live and I'd like to read it. Has anyone read it?


Iv'e been reading this thread with much interest...nows my chance to chime in!

Yes, I read this book. It's "The Trial" by Jen Bryant.  I loved it!  I was so surprised.  I got it for my son.  (Our library puts stickers on the spine for "historical" books, they are the only ones he'll read, so that's why I picked it.) When I showed it to him and he saw the format he said he wasn't reading poetry. To be perfectly honest, I had the same feeling when I opened the cover. I'm not a big fan of poetry....okay, is everyone done gasping?  Anyway, I decided to give it a try since the topic was so intruiging. It blew me away. I really loved it!

Now I'm not sure why I had never noticed this before, but so many of the picture books that I love are really written in this format. I guess the illustrations just made it so I didn't notice.
What I really loved is the simplicity of the words and the pure emotion they evoked. Now I keep looking for other free verse novels to read. I'm hooked!

Side note: I read a interview with Maurice Sendak recently and he was talking about growing up in this time period and about how much the Lindbregh kidnapping was a part of life and how it effected him as a child. "Outside Over There" is based on this case. I tried reading it to my girls when they were little and it was just too creepy for all of us. Weird, huh? 

Gail

P.S> Spell check has disappeared, so I apoligize. I'm the worlds worst typist and speller.

#17 - February 17, 2005, 11:46 AM

kimmar

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****I HAVE A FEW SPOLIERS HERE SO IF YOU HAVEN"T READ THE FIRST 30 PAGES OF OUT OF THE DUST, AND PLAN TO, DON'T READ THIS POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!****

WG,
Funny that I should take a break from my own writing today, before you pasted, to read Out Of The Dust! WOW! I have so much to say about, and so much I think I can learn from the writing of this book. I couldn't put it down until I reached the end.

Although the accident you mention doesn't occur until page 60 (and could maybe be considered the book's first major plot point if I were to look at it that way), in the first section of the book (Winter, 1934), in 17 poems spanning 33 pages, Hesse planted key questions in my mind that begged me to keep reading. These were the questions: How will mom's pregnancy change things? Will this fetus make it, unlike the others? Will daddy get his boy? How will Billie Jo react to the new sibling? How will she cope now that her best friend has moved away? How will the family manage these hard times? Will they leave too? In her piano playing, we see Billie Jo's passion, where will that lead her? Will the family dynamics we've seen so far prevent her from pursuing her music?

I saw the pregnancy question as one that, at that point, could be happily or unhappily resolved. I saw the mc's desire to use her talent as a way to escape the conditions and trying times that the dust (the same dust that caused the departure of her best friend) had thrust upon the family. All of those questions made it impossible for me to stop reading. Even though the worst tragedy was yet to come. This is all food for thought as I consider the pacing of my book and the right placement for a tragic scene that forces my character to take a hard look at her own life.

There are two spots later in the book that I think I might also consider major plot points, but if anyone has thoughts on what I've said so far, I'd love to hear them.

Kim
#18 - February 17, 2005, 12:14 PM

Charis

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Gail, so glad I could give you an "intro door" to our discussion.  :angel:  It is amazing the ripples from that one event reach throughout a distance. My ex-father-in-law was orphaned at infancy around that time and was in an orphanage in Bucks Co, PA. He was told that members of the Lindbergh family came to check him out because he matched the physical description and age of the missing child.

I definitely do want to read The Trial (I couldn't remember a title like that? Yikes!) and I'm glad it gave you a different, more appealing, window into poetry. I know for myself, I laughed when someone first called me a "poet" because I kept thinking sonnets, limericks, and such and I stink at those "tight" forms. But I love your description of free verse, "simplicity of words and pure emotion," Yes! That's what draws me to write free verse novels, you verbalized it so well in so few words...hmmmmm, could there be some free verse in YOUR future?  :moose

Kim, your questions are excellent and would be so instructive to apply them to a specific book (or more!). It's been too long since I've read Out of the Dust to contribute but it gave me an idea. Would anyone be up to reading (or rereading) a specific book and then discuss these kinds of things, plot/character development, narrative arc, description, etc?

#19 - February 18, 2005, 09:42 AM

kimmar

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>>Would anyone be up to reading (or rereading) a specific book and then discuss these kinds of things, plot/character development, narrative arc, description, etc?<<

Yes, Charis! Me! Any other takers?
Kim
#20 - February 18, 2005, 09:54 AM

tgseale

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Me too, Charis!  I'd love to read/reread with the goal of discussing the specifics.  I've been late coming to this conversation, but  have been absorbing every word of it. 
tg
#21 - February 18, 2005, 10:16 AM

kellyr

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I'd be up for "assigned reading" also.  Haven't read any free verse novels yet, but there are several in my overly large reading pile.
#22 - February 18, 2005, 10:45 AM

kimmar

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What should we start with?
:),
Kim
#23 - February 18, 2005, 11:12 AM

WG

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Me too! I will think about some suggestions & post again later. Gotta run right now!
#24 - February 18, 2005, 02:11 PM

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I'm in as long it's a book I can get my hands on. My library pretty much sucks and I  can't always get books in Hardcover.

Alma
#25 - February 19, 2005, 01:41 PM
GG Finalist, Golden Oak award, CLA BofY Honor Book, Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz award, TD09 Finalist, Yalsa Quickpick, Stellar shortlist, MYRCA shortlist

Charis

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Wow, just got home and showered (ahhhhhhh) after two days camping with my three sons and about 50 other people from my church. I've conquered biscuits-in-foil cusine and am now up for free verse exploration. I'm so glad to see a good sized "discussion group" developing.

Mish, do you have any idea which books you could locate? Maybe it'll help us narrow down a list.
#26 - February 20, 2005, 02:41 PM

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I never know. Just pick one if I can get it all discuss it with you all. If I can't go on without me.

Alma
#27 - February 20, 2005, 05:05 PM
GG Finalist, Golden Oak award, CLA BofY Honor Book, Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz award, TD09 Finalist, Yalsa Quickpick, Stellar shortlist, MYRCA shortlist

WG

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These are from Andi W's post of the "free verse novels" thread:

Catherine Bateson - A Dangerous Girl / The Year It All Happened
Marlene Carvell - Who Will Tell my Brother
Eirean Corrigan - You Remind me of You: A Poetry Memoir
Terri Fields - After the Death of Anna Gonzales
Helen Frost - Keesha's House
Mel Glenn - Taking of Room 114 / Foreign Exchange: A Mystery in Poems / Jump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems / Split Image: A Story in Poems / Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems
Nikki Grimes - Bronx Masquerade
Juan Felipe Herrera- Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse
Karen Hesse - Out of the Dust / Witness / Aleutian Sparrow
Paul Janeczko - Stardust Otel
Ron Koertge - Shakespeare Bats Clean-up/ Brimstone Journals
Joanne Rocklin - For Your Eyes Only
Ann Warren Turner - Learning to Swim: A Memoir
April Halprin Wayland - Girl Coming In For a Landing
Margaret Wild - Jinx / One Night
Vera B. Williams - Amer Was Brave, Essie Was Smart
Janet S. Wong - Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving, Minn and Jake
Jacqueline Woodson - Locomotion
The Way A Door Closes --Hope Anita Smith

Let's pick one from here? I'm willing to read/re-read any of these.


#28 - February 20, 2005, 06:19 PM

Gail, so glad I could give you an "intro door" to our discussion.  :angel:  It is amazing the ripples from that one event reach throughout a distance. My ex-father-in-law was orphaned at infancy around that time and was in an orphanage in Bucks Co, PA. He was told that members of the Lindbergh family came to check him out because he matched the physical description and age of the missing child.

I definitely do want to read The Trial (I couldn't remember a title like that? Yikes!) and I'm glad it gave you a different, more appealing, window into poetry. I know for myself, I laughed when someone first called me a "poet" because I kept thinking sonnets, limericks, and such and I stink at those "tight" forms. But I love your description of free verse, "simplicity of words and pure emotion," Yes! That's what draws me to write free verse novels, you verbalized it so well in so few words...hmmmmm, could there be some free verse in YOUR future?  :moose





Charis,
That's so interesting about your ex-father-inlaw. I'm pretty much roped in now on reading more about the Lindbergh case. I'm also in on the free verse assigned reading! Me a poet? I don't know...but I like how you quoted me! I think I need to "listen" to those words when I go back to reread my latest revision.
Thanks,
Gail
#29 - February 21, 2005, 08:22 AM

kellyr

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Let's see what books Alma can get to.  But based on title and name of author, I like Eirean Corrigan - You Remind me of You: A Poetry Memoir best
#30 - February 22, 2005, 12:14 PM

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