I accidentally read my first novel-in-verse on February 29th, 2012.
Sarah and I are book doppelgangers, so when she strongly recommended the book Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay, I blindly hit the one-click purchase button on Amazon and downloaded it to my Kindle without bothering to read the description.
By the time I realized that the book lacked any sort of prose, I was already mesmerized by the verse form. I was late to work that day because I sat in my car figuring out how to use the highlighting function on my Kindle for the first time.
Later, I almost forgot to pay for my lunch because I had finally figured out how to use the highlighting function on my Kindle and was frantically trying to highlight the entire book before the end of my lunch hour.
And then, I was fiendishly delighted that my SHO had to work late that evening because it allowed me to devour the rest of the book after I got home from work without interruption.
Now, of course you must be thinking (because you all know me so well and all),
But Laura! Of course you love novels-in-verse! You’re a piano player! And a singer! That means you love poetry! And novels-in-Verse are TOTALLY poetry!
Actually, I don’t “get” poetry. The word “poetry” has traditionally evoked a strong negative reaction from me.
Feel free to blame my high-school English teachers for constantly assigning five pages of BS (aka analysis of symbolism and meter) on five line poems. Also feel free to blame the coffee-house hipsters of Ithaca, New York and Portland, Oregon and their open mic night drivel (aka “spoken word,” aka “words on the meaning of life written while high.”)
I ♥ NOVELS-IN-VERSE.
First of all, verse novels combine two of my favorite literary techniques: A beautiful, lyrical use of language that is a hallmark of poetry AND a narrative. Unfortunately, poetry-by-itself lovers, free-standing poems tend not to make sense to me without hours spent (that I really, REALLY don’t want to spend) dissecting their literary devices. And while I can occasionally deal with a book that does not have much of a plot, generally, I find a the presence of a narrative necessary for my reading enjoyment. Perhaps this makes me boring or dim-witted, but I simply enjoy stories. That make sense. While I read them.
Verse novels = lyrical vignettes that fit into the context of a narrative.
Now, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I also love novels-in-verse because they don’t take much time to read.
Because, let’s face it, most of us are busy people. I have a full-time job. I have a wretched daily commute. I have blog posts to write. I have a husband. I have Very Important football and basketball games to watch. Which means that I don’t always have time to read a 500-page exposition-heavy prose novel. But dammit, I want my complete reading experience. Luckily, Verse = a curious combination of making every word count while using as few words as possible.
I win again!
Being the rebel that I am, I love verse novels because they don’t follow traditional writing rules.
Composer Claude Debussy (most well-known for his piano piece “Clair de Lune”), once said,
Music is the space between the notes.
Similarly, a novel-in-verse is the space between the words.
Think about that for a moment.
Instead of typed lines of words to convey meaning, a verse novel places words where they best fit into the white space, perhaps to represent a stunned silence, a mouth agape, a pause in thought.
When I experience a strong emotion, whether it be rage, disappointment or giddiness, I don’t think,
I am tempted to jump up and down with delight upon hearing that one Portland Trail Blazer doesn’t have a devastating knee injury.
Rather, I feel,
Clearly, I’m no poet, but you get the idea.
The combination of poetic vignettes with an inventive use of space results in an incredibly keen emotional impact that traditional prose cannot match. Traditional prose relies on descriptive sentences in a line-by-line format. But sometimes I don’t just want to read about what the character is feeling.
Instead, I want to experience it with them. I do when I read a verse novel.
Mostly, I love novels in verse because they remind me of how I enjoy music.
Since I’m a serious Music Dork, a higher compliment I cannot bestow.
Sometimes when I listen to music, a motif will catch my ear and I’ll want to track how or if it develops, if it appears in other voices, or in another key. Or perhaps a certain phrase will breathe and ache with such poignant beauty that it gives a piece an identity. Or maybe I just want to lay back and relax and let the sound wash over me.
Similarly, when I read verse novels, it is so easy for me to be enveloped by the rhythms, the lilts, the cadences. Sometimes, a certain verse, or phrase, or line will wallop me with insight or intensity. But no matter what, in both music and verse novels, there are still finite beginnings and endings that tie everything together.
(See? Music. Dork. What’d I tell you?)
My love for verse novels is best summed up… by a verse at the end of a verse novel.
My heart says it’s in love,
But it didn’t feel like
that jolt before falling asleep
or like springtime on the moon.
It felt like my heart
had something to say,
and all I had to do
-Sarah Tregay, Love and Leftovers
(Well, what are you waiting for? Go buy a Lisa Schroeder book and fall in love with verse. Right. Now.)