When Poets Write Novels: Caoilinn Hughes picks a few favourites for Granta


Caoilinn Hughes, Orchard & the Wasp, PenguinRandomHouse, 2018

With her new novel just out, Caoilinn Hughes selects some poets who have written novels, including Janet Frame and Keri Hulme.


I grew up reading poetry and plays because that’s what was in the house. Once I’d become accustomed to density and concision, the novel seemed a baggy, watery, laborious, unapproachable thing. Nancy Drew was intimidating. The Hobbit was a lumbering, heaving giant. Yevtushenko – conversely – was slim, lithe, safe and succinct. There was space on the page for the reader. He spoke directly to me, a small, trusted audience. He didn’t ask me to remember any details, nor did he play tricks or engineer twists. Everything included was essential. Concentrated. Neither that chair nor this reader could be done without. Each moment was self-contained, earnest, self-supporting.

As the years went by, I found my way into the novel form, first as a reader, and later as a writer. I began to see that the distance between the two forms doesn’t need to be vast, and sometimes it isn’t – it was a matter of finding the right novels. A novelist can share a poet’s sensibility, precision, generosity, slant, view, broodiness, relationship with language, imagery, metaphor and the visual. But what about the novelists who are poets? Do their novels betray them as such? If so, how? I began to compile a list of my favourite contemporary novels by poets. To my eye, all expose their authors as poets, but this is no failing. Quite the opposite.


Full piece here







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