Why write with poetry?

April is National Poetry Month! This month we want to highlight debut novels that release in 2014 with a strong tie to poetry. We have two middle grade novels with poetry woven throughout the story. And three novels in verse where the story is told through poetry.

This week we’re asking these authors: Why poetry? Why did you write in verse? Or how did your story come to include so many poems?



Tracy Holczer Secret Hum of a Daisy



a middle grade novel – available May 1st


I have always been a fan of Robert Frost’s “less traveled” poems and had decided that somehow, someway, one of his poems would make an appearance in my story. After writing a couple of drafts, it became apparent that the poem would become one of the “clues” in Grace’s treasure hunt. Happy that I’d found a way to make it work, and after many more revisions, I went off into submissions. It wasn’t until I queried my agent and she asked that I consider giving Grace a way with words—a connection through poetry to the father she never knew—that poetry became a bigger part of the story. Once there, I couldn’t believe I’d ever written the story without it.


Robin HerreraHopeIs


Amulet Books

a middle grade novel – available now


The main character of HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, Star, has weekly vocabulary sentences to turn in. While writing the first draft, I had trouble coming up with all the words she’d use, so started doing themed lists. The first of these lists was “Emily Dickinson words.” They were fun to write, but poor Emily didn’t get to show up again.

So in the second draft, I took Emily a bit further. Star wrote a Dickinson style poem and compared the poet to her sister. In the third draft, someone saw the poem, and by the novel’s end, he’d convinced her to start a poetry club. In the fourth draft, that poetry club became the Emily Dickinson club and a major plot point.

So in my case, the poetry evolved with each draft, eventually becoming a very large part of the book! Now I can hardly remember the book without it.



Skila Brown  caminar


Candlewick Press

a novel in verse – available now

Caminar came to me as poems. I assumed I’d be taking those poems and turning them into a prose story, but the poems just kept coming and they seemed to be a good fit. I think because the story, with its sometimes-solitary character, its small amount of dialogue, and its intensity of emotions and loss, really lends itself to verse. I found I could say with white space and metaphors what I was having a hard time describing with words. I also think the poems allow readers to digest at a level that’s appropriate for them. A younger reader will get the gist of what’s happening without extreme detail, while teens and adult readers can read between the lines and really absorb the tragedy that unfolded.


Linda Phillips  Crazy


Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 

a novel in verse – available in October 2014

Keeping a journal and filling it with poetry was a healthy outlet and a steadying force in a somewhat tumultuous childhood.  Crazy began as a series of twenty poems that I wrote as a way of trying to understand my reaction to my mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder during most of my formative years. At the time, I had no intention of ever writing a book.  After a number of the poems were published in various adult literary magazines I got the book-writing bug.  I was considering moving towards a chapbook when my writing buddy critiqued it and suggested it needed to be novel.  Then it took many revisions to effectively disengage emotionally and rework the voice into young adult.


Madeleine Kuderick   Kiss of Broken Glass
Harper Teen

a YA novel – coming September 2014


I wrote KISS OF BROKEN GLASS in verse because it was the most authentic and gripping way to tell this story. When my protagonist Kenna is committed to a psych ward after she’s caught cutting in the school bathroom, I wanted the reader to be inside her head. Intensely close. And to experience her emotional journey in short, sharp bursts. Just like Kenna feels it.

I think writing in verse delivers this effect more powerfully than prose. But to tell you the truth, it’s not something I consciously chose to do. Instead, it chose me. From the very first sentence, Kenna’s voice was a natural fit for verse. Raw. Choked off. An abundance of emotion in a small drop of words. Writing this close to the bone is sometimes hard to sustain according to verse author Caroline Starr Rose. But in this case, it felt right. And luckily Kenna’s voice never waivered.



There you have it! Do you have a favorite novel in verse? Or novel with a poetry element? Tell us in the comments. We’d love to hear!

Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.

2 thoughts on “Why write with poetry?

  1. All of these books sound amazing. I’m a big fan of novels in verse although I doubt I’ll ever write one. Just read “The Good Braider” by Terry Farrish. Loved her use of words! I’m going to put all of these on my TBR lead. I’m the fortunate writing buddy who has been able to watch Linda Phillips’ book evolve. Best to all of you in your debut year!

    • Great post! I’m a fan of verse novels, and the last novel I wrote was in verse — not that I’d planned it that way, lol, but after struggling to find the MC’s voice, when I tried it in verse, suddenly there she was.

      Looking forward to reading all these! I just read FORGET ME NOT, by Carolee Dean, which was really good. I loved the variety of poetry structures she used (as well as the compelling story!).

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