April is National Poetry Month, and while you should always have your nose buried in a volume of verse, this is an especially great month to lose yourself in metaphor and meter. If you're new to poetry or just haven't spent much time with the stuff, you're not alone — but that can make digging in kind of intimidating. However, some of your favorite novelists are also poets, and their work is a great place to start.
Ondaatje might be best
known for his lush epic The English
Patient, but the Booker Prize-winner is also a well-published poet. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid:
Left-Handed Poems, which traces the life of Billy the Kid through verse, is perhaps his
most famous collection.
Walker is an activist, womanist, total
badass, and poet. Her novel The Color Purple is
widely acclaimed and influential, but her poetry is just as moving. Walker's latest volume,
the brilliantly-titled Hard Times Require
Furious Dancing, was released in 2010.
Banks’s novel The Sweet Hereafter is beautiful enough
to be considered poetry (seriously, read it if you haven’t) but he has two poetry collections under his belt, too, both winterishly-titled: Waiting to Freeze and Snow.
As one of Canada’s most prolific and well-respected writers, Atwood has won accolades and devotees for novels like The Handmaid’s Tale, but she has written as many poetry books as she has novels. Admirers and newcomers to her work should pick up her 1961 volume Double Persephone.
Aside from winning the Pulitzer
(twice!) for his Rabbit novel series,
Updike also published nine poetry collections in his lifetime. Fans of his frank
approach to sex will dig his salacious poem “Cunts: Upon Receiving The Swingers Life Club Membership Solicitation.”
If Lolita tops your favorites list (no judgments), track down Nabokov’s poem “Lilith” (from Poems and Problems) whose focus on the sexuality of a young girl is widely considered to be a precursor to his highly controversial and popular novel.
Sure, Moby Dick is impressive and all, but
Melville is responsible for Clarel,
an epic poem (18,000 lines) that’s longer than both The
Iliad and Paradise Lost.
Privately, he wrote much more poetry than he did fiction, but his talents as a
poet were largely overlooked in his lifetime.
Her novel Fear of
Flying is a pillar of feminism’s second wave, and Jong’s poetry is an extension
of that movement’s values. Her poem “Nursing You" is guaranteed to bring your feminist fever to the surface, with lines like “I am the second daughter /
of a second daughter / of a second daughter, / but you shall be the first. /
You shall see the phrase / 'second sex' / only in puzzlement, / wondering how
anyone, / except a madman, / could call you 'second' / when you are so
splendidly / first."