A few years ago when I took part in the Maui Writer’s Retreat, I had a one-on-one meeting with my group’s director, Gail Tsukiyama, to go over my opening chapters of Laps, the novel I plan to finish by the end of this year.
Ms. Tsukiyama is the well-known author of such novels as Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden, and first developed her writing reputation as a poet. I knew, therefore, that she would be the perfect person to approach about one essential aspect of my planned novel.
Since my protagonist in Laps is an award-winning novelist, with a prior preference for poetry, and a crucial piece of communication is passed to her in the form of a poem in the opening chapter, I wanted to know how much poetry I could/should include in the entire novel. I had already written three additional poems (one short and funny to help shed light on a character’s sense of humor… the other two more serious to reflect the thinking of two characters, both aspiring poets) into the storyline.
Now, I will be the first to admit that my poetry is amateurish, when judged against the work of professional poets. Still, these were only to be representative of high school work.
Ms. Tsukiyama’s response? Go ahead and use the first one that is so essential to the plotline, but leave out the others. I must admit I was a bit disappointed. When I returned to the mainland and shared her counsel with my writers group, they all vigorously disagreed. The poets in my group, in particular, wanted me to leave them in. I, myself, am inclined to leave them in…even, the short, silly one.
What is your view on the use of poetry in a novel? If you are reading a novel and, turning the page, you see what is apparently a poem on the next page, do you pass right over it or attempt to read and understand it?
Just to be clear about the kind of poem I’m talking about, I’ll post one of the poems I plan on putting in Laps here:
“Encased in Glass”
I wake and look to Heaven in a moment,
Stretch and spread each feathered limb.
Set to soar above the clamor, toward the clouds,
I lift my wings, go flying up to Him.
In air, I feel the breath of freedom’s flight.
The pull of earth grows less and less.
Wings of power raise me ever near His face,
But just as I reach out to His caress
I strike an unseen barrier to my quest–
Some glass invisible all ’round
Encloses me as if I were a captive bird,
Freedom’s promise dying in the sound
Of beating wings, beating on the glass,
Furiously fanning air,
Bruising pinions on this clear celestial veil,
Thrashing for the door no matter where.
Spent, confused, I fall again to earth,
Lie still, and heal my heaving heart,
Then rise once more to fly the path to Heaven’s word,
To shatter glass and break this world apart.
Must angels beat their way through glass to us?
Is earth encased, kept separate from
That realm majestic? Or have human doubts walled up
That door where Jacob’s ladder bid us come?
I would love to get feedback on whether poems in novels are a turn-off or whether you view them as enriching.