The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry

Book – Have you ever tried to write poetry? It’s not as easy as it looks – even free blank verse, in most hands, sounds silly, while a good poet can shake you to your core. Nevertheless, I keep trying to write poetry, hoping that someday I’ll accidentally manage something that’s actually good. I picked up The Ode Less Travelled to see if there’s anything useful I’ve been missing, and wow, have I been missing a lot.

Stephen Fry isn’t a poet – he’s an actor, comedian, and occasional novelist – but he writes poetry for fun, and thinks other people should try it, too. In aid of this, he explains poetical metre (everything’s spelled in British English in this book, although Fry also gives the Americanisms), rhyme, form, and criticism, along with giving extremely useful and interesting exercises for you to try. (They’re presented in workbook format, but please bow to the publisher’s wishes and buy a copy for yourself if you wish to write your verse in the book.) As he says, you probably won’t become an award-winning poet just by reading this book, but you will be able to amuse yourself with a creative hobby, much like sketching with words. And if all you’re interested in is understanding poetry a little better, this would also be a useful read, as it’s much more entertaining than any “Introduction to Poetry” I’ve ever read before.

What Are Big Girls Made of? by Marge Piercy

519y6ulTYBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Dealing with such topics as acrimonious family relationships, nature, and feminism, this collection of poetry has something for everyone. Particular standout poems are “A Day in the Life,” chronicling a typical terrible day for an abortion clinic worker, “Between Two Hamlets,” which takes a decidedly different perspective on the famous play, and the series of “Brother-less” poems, where Piercy explores her distant, regretful relationship with her half-brother.  Piercy’s poems are full of beautiful, memorable images, such as comparing troubles to “sweaters knit of hair and wire” and exhorting women to love themselves like “healthy babies burbling in our arms.”  I am not typically a huge fan of poetry typically but this collection is very accessible to the non-habitual poetry reader.

What Are Big Girls Made Of? will appeal to those who appreciate a lyrical, image-laden writing style in prose or poetry.  You can find Warrenville Public Library’s poetry collection filed in the nonfiction collection in the 800s.

Ideas Are All Around by Philip Stead

indexBook – The narrator of Ideas Are All Around–unnamed, but presumably author Stead himself–doesn’t feel like writing a book today.  Neither does his dog, Wednesday, so the two of them go for a walk instead, meeting old friends and taking in familiar sights with new eyes.

Not all picture books are written with children as their primary audiences.  Not that I think kids wouldn’t enjoy or benefit from Ideas Are All Around–I just expect that adults will like it even more. Caldecott Medal-winner Stead’s book reads like a down-to-earth zen koan, a quiet meditation on place, community and the small, everyday moments that make up a life.  That might sound pretentious in a picture book, but the solid imagery, the polaroid-style illustrations and the clear, simple language keep Ideas Are All Around grounded and real.  While the stream-of-consciousness format would quickly wear out its welcome in a novel, it suits perfectly for this 32-page wisp of story, which leaves a lovely sense of peace in its wake.

In addition to being a great choice to share with family, I would absolutely recommend this book for adult fans of poetry or literary fiction who are willing to step just a little outside of their comfort zones and give the children’s section a peek.

Novels In Verse: The Forgotten Genre

Book – The genre of novels in verse often gets swept under the rug, lost in the muddle of YA fiction.  As opposed to the narrative style of most YA novels (words organized in sentences and paragraphs), verse novels tell stories in the form of free verse poetry.  Aside from their unique formatting, novels in verse excel at covering difficult topics and creating emotionally charged stories.


Here are a few examples of novels in verse, in a variety of themes:

Substance Abuse: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins challenges taboo subjects such as drug addiction, abuse, sex, and suicide in her novels. In her first verse novel, titled Crank, Hopkins addresses drug addiction through the experiences of the main character, Kristina, otherwise known as Bree. Hopkins bases the story off of her own experience with her daughter’s addiction.  The strength in this novel is the connection the author has to the subject matter.

Historical Fiction: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This story follows fourteen year old Billie Joe and her experiences during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  Billie Joe’s narration is a diary of daily life on her family’s farm where she lives with her Daddy and Ma.  Emotionally charged, this story provides insight into the lives of those living through the dust bowl, while the free verse form helps readers connect to the characters more fully.


Other verse novels at the Warrenville Library include: Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas, A Girl Named Mister by Nick Grimes, May B: A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose,
Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, and Sold by Patricia McCormick