Poetry News

A Look Into Forrest Gander's 7 Novels by 7 Poets

By Harriet Staff


If you thought poets were only good for writing poems, Forrest Gander is here to disabuse you of that notion! Over at LitHub, Gander runs down his list of "Seven Great Novels Written by Poets." He introduces his literary listicle, writing: "My guess is that many, perhaps most writers—memoirists and journalists included— start as poets. Poetry certainly doesn’t need to become something else, but it may prove a decent training ground for innovative fiction more often than fiction proves a training ground for good poetry. An extraordinary attentiveness to language not only line by line but word by word characterizes novels by poets and, to my mind, distinguishes them." We'll get your week started by sampling two of those novels by poets, and then let you make the smart choice to head to LitHub for the other five:

The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter, Rosmarie Waldrop

In poet Rosmarie Waldrop’s first novel, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter, an excavation of familial relations and memories of childhood in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, epistolary exchanges substitute for dialogue as two sisters write to each other about their parents’ bad marriage and their mother’s possible affair with a Jewish man who has disappeared in the war. All the while the narrator copies out and mails letters, trying to close in on a past she thought she had abandoned, she realizes that “As my memory lumbers toward them, the parents retreat a little farther each time. They leave an image I pounce on, happy for a moment till I realize it’s a decoy. A decoy I have manufactured.” Broken into sections with titles like “Portrait of Frederika as a Control Tower,” Waldrop’s examination of a private domestic war inside a world war might be considered in relation to Gertrude Stein’s Lifting Belly, the celebration of an erotic love life inside the same world war.

Nyland the Sarcographer, Joyelle McSweeney

A radical vision of writing through the flesh governs the protagonist and the prose of Nyland the Sarcographer by Joyelle McSweeney. Irreverent, energetic and balletic as Jean Genet, someone else who first published as a poet, McSweeney speed-deals a compendium of cultural and literary references, parodying the noir genre even while she squeezes from it every last jaw-clenched cliche and ramps up the atmospherics at the expense of cause and effect. We navigate her paragraphs on their brilliantly constructed rhythmic waves: “Here is hair: thick mustaches and lovely fat waves that dip back and away; braids; blond hair declaring blackness at the roots; sallow girls whose hair and skin and disdain seem all made of the same materials like gold thinned with milk. A beaten egg. In the rows facing forward. Nothing is before them. Above them, Steve McQueen demonstrates the persecution of the car chase. He leads by example.”