Forget What You Think You Know About Poetry

If you tuned into this year’s presidential inauguration, you may now have major heart-eyes for Amanda Gorman, the 22-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate who stole the show as she read her free verse poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

Has Amanda’s stunning performance sparked in you a new interest in poetry?

If so, keep reading.

If not, re-watch the video and come back.

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A lot of people are intimidated by poetry—myself included, sometimes. But I’ve been slowly adding it to my literary diet, and it has been nothing if not rewarding. My advice to you: forget what you think you know about poetry, and then give it a try! Novels in verse feature poetry that’s well-suited for “beginners.” They’re basically just like any other novel, but with fewer words!

A novel in verse might be a great next book for you if:

a). You’ve been having trouble focusing on reading lately

b). You’re already way behind on your reading goals

c). You’re a reluctant reader

d). You’re a slow reader

e). You’re scared of poetry and don’t know where to start

f). You’re excited to try something new

Novels in verse have been around for a long time, but they seem to be especially trendy in kid lit right now. For kids and adults, these types of books are great for fostering feelings of accomplishment because they’re quick reads!  Kwame Alexander—practically the patron saint of novels in verse—has written books for both kids and teens in this style with topics ranging from sports to jazz. Although I still can’t believe it, Kwame will be visiting us via Zoom on February 18th for a Q&A followed by a fundraiser raffle.

Jacqueline Woodson and Elizabeth Acevedo are also well-versed (pun intended) in this style. I love Woodson’s Before the Ever After, which is a book for middle readers about ZJ, whose dad is a professional football player who starts to feel the effects of multiple concussions. Among Acevedo’s books for teens, The Poet X has received many awards, and her latest—Clap When You Land—is on my to-read list.

More of my middle grade favorites include Other Words for Home, which is about a Syrian girl turned Cincinnatian and THE DEEPEST BREATH, a sweet LBGTQIA+ book that I got to read early, before its February 2021 release date.

For a more historical perspective, try Joy McCullough's Blood Water Paint, a YA novel in verse which was inspired by real-life female Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi.  It absolutely floored me!  That's why I'm about to fall out of my chair waiting for her newest book WE ARE THE ASHES, WE ARE THE FIRE to be released in February.


More novels in verse I loved or can't wait to read include Chlorine Sky, Every Body Looking, Long Way Down, and The Black Flamingo.

For even more ideas, check out Miss Linda's list of novels in verse for kids.


Want to gush about Amanda Gorman or another favorite poet?  Have a favorite novel in verse I didn't mention?  Sound off in the comments below!

- Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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