Thursday, May 01, 2008

Poets in Fiction

I've really been enjoying National Poetry Month this year; all the different types of poetry I've been reading (old and new, by men, by women, Canadians and others) are just sloshing around together in my brain. I don't usually read quite so much poetry all at once -- fiction is more my Thing. But it's been a great month of exploring poems and poets, so to meld the two, here is a booklist of novels about/including poets:

1. Possession / A.S. Byatt
This is quite a stunning book, featuring two modern grad students racing to find information on two Victorian poets; the variety of poetry and letters and papers Byatt produces is dazzling. Plus the Victorian story is lovely and romantic...

2. Sarah Binks / Paul Hiebert
I've mentioned this one before, but the humour in this imaginary biography of the "Sweet Songstress of Saskatchewan" is a delight.

3. Mean Boy / Lynn Coady
A recent novel set in a creative writing program at a Maritime university, this is a look at a young man's eye-opening experiences with Poets and his own poetic aspirations. It's funny and spot on for anyone who has ever been either to a creative writing class or been an arts undergrad.

4. The Enderby Novels / Anthony Burgess
In this set of four novels, we discover the character of Enderby, a 'professional' poet - his income coming via interest from investments left to him by his stepmother. He composes his poetry on the toilet - and that pretty much hints at the tone of this series!

5. The Gift / Nabokov
This masterpiece tells us the story of Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev, an impoverished émigré poet living in Berlin, who dreams of the book he will someday write--a book very much like The Gift. I'm a big fan of Nabokov, and this one is a wonderful read.

6. Wintering / Kate Moses
A novel based on Sylvia Plath's life. While I don't usually like novels using a real person as the main character, this one is a well written study of a life and of a situation which has fascinated people for years. Read a bit if you like.

7. Sappho's Leap / Erica Jong
A historical romp featuring Sappho, the first female poet. It follows her life in a sort of female Odyssey, as she falls in love, has a daughter, is exiled, is married off to an old man, becomes famous, then stands atop a cliff about to leap...

8. Snow / Maxence Fermine
This one has been described as a 'zen tale of love and haiku'. It's a novella about Yuko, who decides rather than becoming a monk or warrior he will become a poet, one who writes obsessively about snow. But to become a master poet, he must study the arts of calligraphy, painting, music, and love.

9. Crazy about Lili / William Weintraub
In this novel, an aspiring young poet named Richard Lippman finds his muse in Lili L'Amour, an exotic dancer with artistic aspirations. She contacts him after he sends her a poem which begins: "When Dante did sweet Lili espy/ He said to Beatrice, 'Goodbye, goodbye.' " His year hanging about with the burlesque girls of 1940's Montreal gives him the self-confidence to envision a future as either a ladies' man, a con artist and/or a poet.


  1. What a good list! I've only read Possession (and I agree-Byatt's range is really impressive), but the others all sound so tempting. :D

  2. This IS a good list! I haven't heard of quite a few of them (although I loved Possession!) and will have to check them out.

  3. Great list. I think I am going to check out the Anthony Burgess and Kate Moses.

  4. Glad you've all enjoyed it; I had fun making it!


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