Novels By Poets Week

A Twitter hashtag has informed me that it's officially #NovelsByPoetsWeek. Since this is one of my favorite genres, and since I've been prosthelytizing on behalf of poetry lately, I thought that I would recommend four instances of poets embracing the looseness and freedom of the fictional form:

1. James Merrill, The Seraglio. I love Merrill's verse--"Lost in Translation" is one of the ten best poems of the last half century--but I also love his prose. His memoir, A Different Person, is absolutely fantastic, and so is his first novel, The Seraglio, which is arguably weirder than it is fantastic. Imagine a Jamesian novel of manners filtered through 1950s Freudianism, complete with an actual castration scene. It's currently out of print, but check and see if your local library has it. 

2. Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze. This has the added bonus of being a novel by a poet about a poet. Foulds examines the last years of John Clare, a rare working-class nineteenth-century poet who wrote as beautifully of nature as anyone ever has. These final years were spent in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, and Foulds convincingly dramatizes the ways in which visionary genius might shade into madness. Another bonus: Alfred Lord Tennyson is a major character.

3. Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station. Lerner's novel offered something rare in contemporary fiction: a vision of what the world would look like if we saw it, truly and deeply, through the lens of critical theory. Derrida and deconstructionism, Ashbery and self-reflexivity, pot and the process of translation: Lerner explores them all in a novel that feels relaxed in form but is actually rigorous in its argument.

4. Joshua Corey, Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy. It's a weird noir/modernist mashup, and it's terrific. I'm hoping to write on this for the blog soon.

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Anthony Domestico is an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). He writes Commonweal's "Bookmarks" column.

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