Some Writer’s Resolutions Inspired by Verse Novelist Leslea Newman

It’s VerseDay again! VerseDay is a yearlong blog fest celebrating all things verse. Hosted by, VerseDay will highlight weekly posts from writers and bloggers who have something to say about verse. This blog, Angelhorn will be blogging for verse day regularly so watch this space for more VerseDay fun. You can visit the VerseDay homepage to find out what other bloggers and writers are involved and sign up yourself.

For my first VerseDay post I want to share what I learned and resolved after chatting with poet Lesléa Newman.

When I chatted with Lesléa Newman earlier this week about her magnificent verse novel OCTOBER MOURNING:A Song for Matthew Shepard, I was interested to learn that she didn’t write the poems that make up this extraordinary book in order.

GabrielleSaraP: OCTOBER MOURNING is both a verse novel and a collection of poetry which would appeal to fans of both forms. Any comments?

Lesleanewman: I really thought of it as a collection of themed poems, as opposed to a verse novel. The book has a narrative arc so it is novelistic. But when writing it, I wasn’t really thinking “novel.” I was thinking “poems.” And I did not write them in chronological order. Ordering them was a challenge. There was a definite beginning and ending. The middle was tricky because many things happened at the same time. (Ordering)  was an intuitive thing. As soon as I realized that the book contained two parts bracketed by poems from the fence, things fell into place

I have learned from other writers and not just verse novelists, that they sometimes write scenes and chapters out of sequence. The very idea of this terrifies me! But as writers I think we need to face this terror. Maybe I should try to write some things out of order and see where it takes me.

Resolution # 1 – write out of order. I’m so very scared.

Lesléa and I also talked about form.

lesleanewman: I think one way OCTOBER MOURNING is distinct is that many of the poems are written in form (haiku, sonnet, etc.)

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

GabrielleSaraP: Yes. I love the different forms in OCTOBER MOURNING. I do a bit of that in my verse novel too.

lesleanewman: Writing in form is very good discipline. I don’t know why more poets don’t do it. You learn so much about language. and I always say about form: if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me!

GabrielleSaraP: I completely agree about writing in form. It has helped me so much

I would go so far as to say that I could not be a poet if I didn’t exploit form in some way. IN AUDACIOUS even many of the poems that are blank verse are constrained in some way, usually by being broken into stanzas with a certain number of lines. This helped me immensely. Without this constraint the poems would ramble. Within form poets are required to be much more creative with language and imagery.

I wonder if I can find a way to use this creative exercise in my non verse writing.

Resolution #2 – try to find a way of using form restriction in my non verse writing

Lesléa and I discussed the market for OCTOBER MOURNING, which has been billed a t YA novel in verse.

GabrielleSaraP: You mention teens, and the book is being described as a YA book. I feel it’s kind of ageless though. Comments? It’s certainly suitable for adult readers too, and mature middle graders 

lesleanewman: I wrote it with no specific audience in mind. It is published as a YA but it appeals to adults as well. Especially those who do remember.

GabrielleSaraP: Were you thinking of teens as you wrote, just with regards to content? It’s not sexually explicit for example

lesleanewman: I was conscious of not using the “F” word, otherwise no.

GabrielleSaraP: Sometimes not using the F word is the most difficult part

lesleanewman: I think of it as a challenge. There must be another way to say….whatever I am trying to say. 

The issue of coarse language in YA writing is one that has come up for me a number of times. Lesléa’s take on it is interesting; to see it as a challenge and look for a way of saying the things you want to say within those restrictions. I think the same applies for other “content” in YA and MG novels – sexuality or violence. Sometimes the way these things are depicted in an age appropriate way are MORE creative than if we had free reign to be as explicit as we wanted.

Resolution #3 – less F bombs. Find another way of saying the same thing. Both in life and in writing.

Lesléa and I discussed many other things – gay marriage, drama club, coming out, and the impact her book is having on teen readers.

lesleanewman: Teens have responded very strongly to the book and many have vowed to make a difference to end hate

As writers this the most we can hope for. Not only that our words make a difference but that our readers are inspired to make a difference too.

Resolution # 4 – Make a difference. Inspire others to do the same.

That’s a resolution we could all use every year, writer or not. Make a difference. Inspire others. What more is there? 2012 was a tough year for me and all of us. Here’s to, with each other’s help, making 2013 a little bit easier.

What are your resolutions?

While you think about it, check this incredibly moving trailer for OCTOBER MOURNING:

4 thoughts on “Some Writer’s Resolutions Inspired by Verse Novelist Leslea Newman

  1. Ms. Newman’s October Mourning is an excellent example of a true verse novel — a story with an arc and told with real poetry. And I love these wonderful resolutions. They’re pinned to my cork board!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s