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Prose and …

We talked, not so long ago, about poets who had also written novels.

I was reminded of this today as I sorted through our poetry shelves and I realised how many works of poetry we had by writers normally recognised for their fiction: Peter Ackroyd, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, Alasdair Gray, Nikos Kazantzakis, James Tiptree Jr., and so on.

Then I noticed our volumes of C.P. Cavafy. Poems like ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ or ‘The God Abandons Antony’ are pretty perfect novels in their own right. But wouldn’t you just love to read a real novel by Cavafy?

Or if not Cavafy, which poet would you like to read a novel by?

13 thoughts on “Prose and …

  1. Great question.

    As an answer, were they alive, I’d like to see novels by Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings, and Elizabeth Bishop, for starters. Oh, and how about novels from the holy trinity of haiku: Bashō, Buson, and Issa? And another from Rilke, surely.

    As for living poets, how about one from Derek Walcott?

    And doesn’t Cavafy appears as a character in Lawrence Durrell’s fiction?

  2. Wow, would I love to see a Basho novel.

    Has anyone read e.e. cummings’ “The Enormous Room”? I know it’s non-fiction, but maybe it’s the closest to the novel he’s done? I’ve been meaning to check it out.

    I’d like to read novels from Zbiegniew Herbert, Seamus Heaney, Theodore Roethke, Muhammad, and Homer.

    Also Jennifer L. Knox.

  3. A few nights ago I met someone who’s read Jack Spicer’s detective novel. He said it’s good but he commented on the fact that it’s unfinished. I said, “Doesn’t that just make it even better?”

    I am going to read that one very soon. (Why am I not reading it right now?) I utterly adore the fact that its title is TOWER OF BABEL: JACK SPICER’S DETECTIVE NOVEL. I wonder which editor thought that up! Kudos to her.

    …I now so want to write something called JACK SPICER’S DETECTIVE NOVEL.

    “There is a mind beating in that pile of rubble you call your mind.”

  4. Well Bishops wrote short stories, as well as Willy Carlos.

    Not to be a grump, but I think the writer adheres to a form for a reason. Could Emily D. do anything resembling Moby Dick? I think writers tend to know which kingdom they are suited for, at least after a while, and many great novelists were failed poets and many great poets failed novelists.

    Who can do both, equally stunningly?

    My mind is a blank or is it that the canonical work usurps the rest of the ouvre?

    DH Lawrence?

    1. “Who can do both, equally stunningly?”

      This question was addressed and answered (with no illusion of completion) in my post Paul references above. Check out the comments as well.

      And, the spirit of Paul’s post is imagining “what if?” No, I don’t think Dickinson, if she had written a novel, would write one resembling Moby Dick. No, it would resemble Moby Dickinson.

      It’s fun imagining novels by these poets. It could be used a constraint for one’s own writing as in, “I’m going to write a story, novel, play, as if channeling Ezra Pound.”

      1. I think what I’m trying to get at is writers get pigeon-holed. Sure people read Malte Briggs, but do people say you have to read Malte Briggs, before they say you have to read Rilke’s poetry.

        Reverse with Carver.

        I’m talking about a Babe Ruth. Someone that reached the absolute pinnacle in both forms. It seems harder.

        Chekhov and Beckett could do fiction and plays, but fiction and poetry. Who?

  5. Who can do both equally well? Borges. Piercy. Kipling. Disch. Ford Madox Ford. Delmore Schwartz. Grace Paley. YMMV as to which are stunning.

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