Friday, April 23, 2021

Historical novels in verse, in celebration of National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month is celebrated in the US each April, and 2021 marks the event's 25th anniversary. For all the time this blog's been in existence, I haven't posted about historical novels taking the form of poetry, so I figured it was time to take a closer look.

The form, though, really hasn't been very popular in adult historical fiction. I knew of two examples, neither of which is recent, and searched WorldCat to see what else was out there (not much).  

Darlington's Fall
 by Brad Leithauser (Knopf, 2002) follows the travels and complex personal relationships of a fictional naturalist, Russel Darlington, born in the late 19th century.  Growing up in Indiana, he pursues his interest in the natural world out West, where he also finds himself pulled toward a woman seemingly out of his reach. It's a novel about the love of nature and science, self-discovery, and the mysteries they hold.

The Marlowe Papers by English writer Ros Barber (St. Martin's Press, 2013) takes place further back in time. It takes as premise that Christopher Marlowe was the true author of Shakespeare's works, and that he faked his death to evade arrest and execution for heresy. I haven't read this novel, which was longlisted for the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction.

Historical novels in verse are more on-trend in the Young Adult arena. In terms of YA titles, a favorite is Blood Water Paint (Dutton, 2018) by Joy McCullough, which I'd read from my library's copy.  Italian Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi narrates an empowering tale about the joy she finds in art, her rape by her father's apprentice, and her strength in proclaiming the truth about this terrible event to the world. This is all based on historical fact. This novel can be appreciated by adults equally well.

Other powerfully written YA novels in verse include Kip Wilson's White Rose, about young German anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl; Allan Wolf's The Watch That Ends the Night, which gives voice to many people involved in the Titanic tragedy; Patricia Hruby Powell and Shadra Strickland's Loving vs. Virginia, about the interracial love story between Richard and Mildred Loving in the '50s; and Karen Hesse's award-winning Out of the Dust, set in Oklahoma during the Great Depression.

Have you read any of these, or other historical novels written in verse?  Does the form appeal to you?


  1. Laura Amy Schlitz's Amber and Clay is a gorgeous mythological-historical YA novel in verse about two young people in Ancient Greece. I'm excited to be interviewing the author for Historical Novels Review this summer!

  2. That's great news about the interview!

  3. I have never heard of poetic historical fiction. It has piqued my interest.

  4. Glad to hear it! If you're curious about it, there are many to choose from in the YA arena. Here's another article with suggested titles that I found online.

  5. My son read Blood Water Paint with his school's book club, and I read it as well and loved it! It is brilliant!

  6. Glad to hear you also enjoyed it. It's a great idea to read it with a book club - there's a lot to discuss.