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Sometimes they’re just really looooong poems…

By Patricia Smith

I have a friend named Rachel Kann. Her new book, “10 for Everything” is fresh off the press; I got my copy in the mail today. Turn the book over and marvel at one of the most sizzling author photos I’ve ever encountered–all gams and attitude, adorned with pigtails and an unflitered cig. The girl ain’t playin’.
Rachel Kann is a poet. She says so herself in that little self-indulgency called “About the Author” that so often pops up on a book’s last inside page, where no one actually manages to look. But there it is, black and white, loud and clear: Rachel Kann is a poet.
“10 for Everything” however, is not a poetry book. It’s a sexy, quirky,revelatory work of fiction which quickly becomes an addiction. The underlying spark for that addiction is that fact that…well, Rachel Kann is a poet. The inventive yet lyrical irreverence that make her such a whiz at stanzas infuses her fiction with twists of language that quickly become addictive.
And I just finished “She’s Gone,” an amazing debut novel by by our own Mr. Kwame Dawes. In this textured tale of lust and politics, his sizzling prose sports a signature that will be instantly familiar to anyone who knows and appreciates his poetic voice.
In fact, my favorite poet of all time has also penned twenty–count ’em, twenty–novels. And while he tries his best to squelch his poetic tendencies in the pages of his mysteries, he fails miserably. I’d recognize that poetry anywhere.
I’m thrilled to read Kann, Dawes and my all-time favorite poet, to savor those fictional passages long and aloud. Which got me to thinking…who are some other poets who are also successful fiction writers, or fiction folks who also write poetry? And are poets naturally drawn to fiction with a heavy poetic element?

I know I am.
For instance, James Lee Burke–the author of a popular series of mysteries starring Louisiana sleuth Dave Robicheaux– is not a poet, but he is the man behind one of the most stunning, lushly poetic passages I’ve ever read. (I’d repeat it here, but my copy of his book “In Electric Mist With Confederate Dead” has gone missing, and I certainly don’t want to approximate the words. I’ve ordered another copy, and as soon as I get it, I’ll post the passage here.) Then there’s Daniel Woodrell. Toni Morrison. (Shall we ruminate upon the breathless ending of “Jazz”?)
So. Let’s talk fiction. Who’s effectively crossing that stupid little blurry line between the genres?

Comments (5)

  • On June 20, 2007 at 12:37 am Tara Betts wrote:

    Well, you said Toni Morrison and I just picked up “She’s Gone” myself. I’ve always loved Julia Alvarez, Ana Castillo and Sandra Cisneros, Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde myself. If Edwidge Danticat had poems, I would be giddy.

  • On June 20, 2007 at 10:41 am John K. wrote:

    Others who wrote or write both accomplished poetry and fiction (as well as other forms) include Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Jorge Luis Borges, José Lezama Lima, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Gayl Jones, Melvin Dixon, Paul Beatty….

  • On June 20, 2007 at 2:54 pm patricia wrote:

    All on my list. Just wondering if we can discover some unheralded voices (although you made me pull Melvin Dixon down off the shelf for tonight’s nightcap…)

  • On June 20, 2007 at 4:27 pm John K wrote:

    Patricia, a few less heralded folks might include: Edouard Glissant; Reg Gibbons, an excellent poet (and my dear colleague) whose novel Sweetbitter is superb; Edouard Glissant, who’s as fine a theorist as creative writer; Ntozake Shange (well, her fiction is unheralded, but I love it); Clarence Major (one of my intellectual heroes); Amos Oz, who has a strange, wonderful novel in verse; Werewere Liking, whose work hovers between verse and prose; and Wilson Harris, one of the writers who I consider most deserving of the Nobel Prize. (Thinking of Harris immediately brings to mind Nate Mackey, who works in both genres, and Jay Wright, who is as fine a playwright as he is a poet.) Are you thinking of writing a novel? I bet it would be stunning.

  • On June 26, 2007 at 9:19 am rachel kann wrote:

    oh my goodness… patricia… thank you so much. i am terribly flatterred. and also to dig into the convo at hand, three women by marge piercy is a really accessible novel by a poet. its great. in addition to the other ones mentioned in comments.

Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 by Patricia Smith.