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Novels About Poets: Background information when reading The Poet's House

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The Poet's House

by Jean Thompson

The Poet's House by Jean Thompson X
The Poet's House by Jean Thompson
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2022, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2023, 336 pages

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Novels About Poets

This article relates to The Poet's House

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In Jean Thompson's novel The Poet's House, main character Carla discovers a new world when she meets Viridian, a well-established poet. Viridian soon brings Carla into her circle of writer friends and the drama that pervades the group, changing her life forever.

Novels about poets and poetry can provide an interesting opportunity for the author to insert fictional poems of their own making. They can also give an author the chance to create a unique artistic atmosphere, one in which the writing or deciphering of poems can serve as either background, plot points or both. Below are just a few other novels in which poets and poetry take center stage.

Covers of novels about poets

One of the most famous novels featuring a poet is Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, an intricate literary puzzle built around a work by the fictional poet John Shade. The book includes the text of a 999-line poem called "Pale Fire," which Shade supposedly composed before he was murdered, as well as an introduction and commentary written by the poet's neighbor and self-proclaimed friend, Charles Kinbote. Through the commentary, Kinbote tells his own story, but his fantastical and questionable claims leave it to the reader to reflect on how much of his account is true, what his relationship with Shade was and what really happened to the poet. This novel of Nabokov's appears in and inspired the title of the book My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which explores the disturbing relationship between a teenage girl and her teacher.

Punching the Air by prison reform activist Yusef Salaam and award-winning novelist Ibi Zoboi is a young adult novel about a teenage artist and rapper that is itself written in verse. The narrator-poet is Amal Shahid, a Black Muslim boy, and his first-person compositions follow his experiences with systemic racism and discrimination, which eventually land him in prison for a crime he didn't commit. For other recommended novels like this, see our YA literature categorized as poetry and novels in verse.

While its dense and elaborate structure of multiple overlapping perspectives may not appeal to everyone, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño is not only a classic of Latin American literature, but features poets and their intersecting lives generously and enthusiastically. Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer for English-reading audiences, it follows the characters Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, among many others involved in the "visceral realist" poetry movement, and focuses on their search for the mysterious vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero.

While the other books on this list feature fictional poets, The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz fictionalizes the life of one of the most iconic poets of all time, Sylvia Plath. The novel centers on the writing of Plath's novel The Bell Jar through three narratives that combine past and present timelines, showcasing the perspectives of Estee, a curator who finds the original manuscript of The Bell Jar decades after it was written; Dr. Ruth Barnhouse, Plath's psychiatrist; and Boston Rhodes, a poet rival of Plath's.

Those who enjoy fictionalized works about real-life poets may also want to check out Amanda Flower's upcoming mystery series featuring Emily Dickinson.

Filed under Reading Lists

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Poet's House. It originally ran in August 2022 and has been updated for the July 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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