Verse Novels and How To Write Them, with Lisa Fipps
And some tips for getting your poetry published!
From the Writing Desk: Woot woot, it’s National Poetry Month! Or it will be, starting April 1. And whether or not you’re a poet, there are some things poetry teaches us that are worth learning for any writer.
I’ve been poetry lover since reading Shel Silverstein as a kid. And lets be honest, Silverstein is still one of my favorites, and I go to his books all the time. His poem ‘Him and Me’? Still a classic that makes me laugh. And those drawings! He’s definitely an inspiration behind my desire to teach myself cartooning, drawing, and illustration skills.
My next book, THE NIGHTMARE HOUSE, is in partial verse, and I couldn’t be more excited. The main character, Penny Hope, learned poetry from her grandmother and uses verse as a processing tool and a coping mechanism. The chapters are interspersed with poems from Penny’s notebook. And…dun dun dun!!! You all get a sneak peak of one of the poems!
There are lots of poetic forms in NIGHTMARE HOUSE, because I wanted to include a range. We’ve got sonnets, abcedarians, haiku, free verse, ekphrastics, shape poems, and more. Since it’s nearly April Fool’s Day as well, let’s go with the limerick—
I had so, so much fun with the poems in this book, and can’t wait for them to be out in the world. (August 8th can’t get here fast enough!)
A final writing desk note—it’s the third birthday for WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, and yesterday was the second birthday for BREATHING UNDERWATER. It’s strange and surreal, this whole publishing thing, and I didn’t want to have this go by without a big thank you to everyone whose read these books, and the many, many incredibly smart and talented people it took to make these into actual books.
How about you? Do you consider yourself a poet?
3 Questions About Verse Novels with Lisa Fipps:
Speaking of artists in the verse novel form, I’m SO STOKED to get to chat with Lisa Fipps and get some of her verse novel wisdom! Lisa is the author of Starfish, which basically won all the awards, including a Printz honor award, and deservedly so! Starfish has been translated into Turkish, Korean, and Spanish, and will soon be coming out in other languages. Her second middle-grade novel in verse will be released in spring 2024.
1. How have you seen students/kids respond to verse novels vs traditional prose novels?
Students say they enjoy that, as a novel in verse, Starfish is a fast read. They're surprised by how a writer can say so much and pack an emotional punch in so few words by using poetry. Students who are reluctant or struggling readers like that not only does Starfish have fewer pages than most middle-grade novels in prose, but there's a lot of white space. That white space makes Starfish even less intimidating to students because it gives readers the visual and mental space to take a breath, pause, and think about what they've just read before they move on to the next poem.
2. What do you wish you'd known about publishing a verse novel before you started writing?
There's something I knew I could do but chose not to do and now sometimes wish I would have done. I would have loved to have played with the words and white spacing to create poems in shapes, what I call word art. For example, for a poem about love, you can use the words to form the shape of a heart. I chose not to use word art in Starfish because I didn't want to create any barriers for reluctant or struggling readers; however, I will likely use it in a book of poetry I'm writing for adults.
3. What is the most important bit of craft advice to keep in mind when writing a verse novel?
Start with the story. Then, during revisions, make sure the poems are packed full of emotion, with perfect word choices and all the elements of poetry: alliteration, symbolism, metaphors, similes, enjambment, etc.
Thank you so much Lisa for giving us your amazing insight and wisdom about verse novels! Make sure to check out Lisa’s website and her incredible book!
3 Questions About Publishing Poetry with Samyak Shertok:
We get a second poetry expert today too! Along with verse novels, I also wanted to know a bit more about publishing traditional poetry in literary magazines. I reached out to my friend and incredible poet, Samyak Shertok, who got his PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. He was an editor at Quarterly West, a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center, a Writer-In Residence at Aspen Words and The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, a former Poetry Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and is currently the Visiting Writer-in-Residence and Hughes Fellow in Creative Writing at Southern Methodist University. Not to mention that his poems have been published all over the place! He’s one to keep your eye on.
1-What is the most important piece of craft advice you would give to beginning poets?
W. S. Merwin said, "Poetry always begins and ends with listening." So my first advice to beginner poets would be: Learn to listen!
2-What is the most surprising thing you've discovered about being a professional poet?
I don't know if I'd call myself "a professional poet," even though I'm both professional and a poet, or at least I hope I am. One surprising discovery about being a poet is rather basic, even cliche: No matter how advanced you are, each new poem begins at level zero!
3-When you were first sending out your poetry to get published, what do you think made the difference between when you got mostly rejections, versus when your pieces started getting accepted?
Quality of the poems. Nothing else.
Thank you so much Samyak for giving us your amazing insight and wisdom about verse novels!
What I’m Reading: It’s National Poetry Month, so let’s talk poetry, yeah? I already mentioned some incredible verse novelists, and definitely check out their work. But I also want to recommend one of my very favorite poetry collections. Jay Hopler was an amazing poet, and I wish we were able to have more of his work. His collection The Abridged History of Rainfall is one of my very favorites.
Another all-time favorite is Sinner’s Welcome by Mary Karr. Her stuff just hits in a special way. Check them out!
What I’m Watching: Ok, look, there’s a reason I write kids books. It’s because kids content is what I like to consume for myself, including TV. I have recently discovered Wander Over Yonder on Disney+ and let me tell you, it is a delight. It was created by Craig McFerguson, who also created The Powerpuff Girls. Ultimate sunshine/grump dynamics on multiple levels. 10/10 would recommend. Also has there ever been anyone more meant for the cartoon world than Jack McBrayer?
Discovering Your Writerly Identity: I really, really enjoyed this interview with the inimitable Jon Klassen, all about discovering his style as an artist and illustrator, figuring out what he gravitated toward and what he didn’t. I came across this since I’ve lately been trying to experiment with some artsy things, but I think what he talks about applies to writers and creatives of all kinds.
An Authors Hats: Plus many others and a box full of wigs.
You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
Writing Opportunity: I’ve got a fantastic resource for you submitting writers, and a whole slew of April deadlines for poetry, short stories, humor, essays, and lots more. The Published To Death blog has monthly deadlines, and it’s definitely worth going through and seeing which opportunities are ones you want to submit to. Check it out now before the deadlines come and go!
Teacher or Librarian? I would love to do a free virtual Q&A with your class or book group! If you’re interested in scheduling a visit you can reach out to me via my website. Let me know how I can support you! I’ve also got free classroom resources to accompany each book. You guys are rock stars!
Thanks for coming along everyone! I’d be honored if you forwarded this to anyone you thought might find it useful. Onward!
Thanks for reading!