Thursday, March 16, 2006

Novels by poets

Some novelists write poems; some poets write novels. How many do it well?

I know so little poetry--and so little about poetry--that I won't even venture an answer.

But the question came to me recently after reading Nick Laird's first novel, Utterly Monkey. I may do a post on Utterly Monkey in the near future, so for now I'll point you to this review and this review--both give you a reasonable idea about the novel's merits.

As several reviewers have accurately noted, it's clear from many well-turned sentences that the author is a poet.

(Then again, when "eleemosynary" popped up on the page I was reminded that even poets can choose words unwisely.)

A graduate of Cambridge University, Laird is also the author of To a Fault, a collection of poetry, and the recipient of the prestigious Eric Gregory prize for young British poets and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature.

Another poet who writes novels (and biographies) is Jay Parini. In the coming weeks I will definitely post an item about his 1990 novel The Last Station.

John Harvey, author of the fine "Charlie Resnick" procedurals and other crime fiction, is another poet-novelist. Again, there will be more to say about Harvey the novelist in a future post. Meanwhile, you can get a sense of his poetry here.

The brilliant novelist John Updike writes poems...and essays and art criticism and short stories. As much as I enjoy and respect the Updike novels I've read, I know little about his poetry. Click on the titles to hear him read the poems "Atlanta - Dallas/Ft. Worth, 11:10 p.m." and "A Rescue."

The prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates--I think the excellent We Were the Mulvaneys is her best novel--also pens poems. Click here to read (or hear) "The Little Whip."

And then there's the poem "Pale Fire" within Nabokov's novel, Pale Fire. Brian Boyd, author of a book-length commentary on the novel, writes: "Although many have no doubt that Shade's 'Pale Fire' is major poetry, many have no doubt that it is not." Regardless of who is correct, Nabokov is better known for his novels than his poetry.

I offer these briefly-considered ramblings/musings about novels by poets mainly as an invitation to your input.

I don't doubt that I've left out the more brilliant examples of novels written by poets. What are they? Email me with your suggestions, favorites.

--Marshal Zeringue