Thoughtful Thursday: Poetry

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel AbrahamSaint Patrick’s Day always sees me returning to my favorite poet, William Butler Yeats, whose grave I made a pilgrimage to many a year ago. Though he might be the most famous, Yeats is hardly the only wordsmith from Ireland; for such a tiny land, it exports a hell of a lot of good poetry.

Which got me to thinking about poetry in fantasy. Tolkien, of course, made huge use of it in his works (your mileage may vary as to whether that’s a good or bad thing). But so have other authors — whether within the work itself, or as inspiration (see “Vaster than Empires, and More Slow” by Ursula K. LeGuin), as epigraph, or even by using poets as main characters, as Daniel Abraham does in his sublime LONG PRICE QUARTET.

So I’m curious about your own thoughts on the topic — how do you feel about poetry in your fantasy? Do you read the poems? Skim them? Skip them entirely? Throw the book against the wall at the first sign of verse? Do any stick out as particularly well done (or, if you’re feeling a little mean today, not so well done)?

As always, one random commenter will choose a book from our stacks.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. John Smith /

    I would be tempted to skip it or skim it.

  2. Frederick Rossero /

    I read it, but sometimes cringe. It can definitely be done well though

  3. I loved Tolkien’s use of poetry and I enjoy poetry in other fantasy books, as long as it is well done and services the story in some way.

  4. How about in science fiction? I have long held The Green Hills of Earth by Robert A Heinlein in great affection. The audio version (on vinyl) never fails to move me.

  5. I love poetry so I usually read them. However, if a particular one is overly long, I might skim or skip, depending on how good/bad it is. I do remember reading some good ones though.

  6. I’ve heard people who are poets/know poetry don’t particularly like them but I’ve always liked the riddles from Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series.

  7. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I read the examples of classic or in-universe poems that are quoted in the story or given in epigraphs but I wouldn’t want to read a story *about* poems.

  8. Margo /

    I read everything! Some in-universe poems are great; some not so much. I enjoyed Ann Leckie’s lyrics in the Imperial Radch (AKA Ancillary) trilogy and Sebastian de Castell’s “judicial poetry” in the Greatcoats series. I’ve even written a judicial poem myself!

  9. Jillian /

    To me, poetry in fantasy seems unnecessary and always makes me cringe. But it can be well done in some cases as is seen in Tolkien. Personally, I dislike Leguinn’s use of poetry.

  10. The Distinguished Professor /

    I read “Septimus’ Triolet”, “Song Of The Little Hairy Man” and “The Old Warlock’s Reverie: A Pantoum” that came with Neil Gaiman’s A Fall of Stardust.

  11. Lady Morar /

    The most annoying poetry is in the “Gossamer Worlds: Poetica Mundi” supplement for the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow role-playing game, which details a world that runs on verse.

  12. Sethia /

    I only like poetry inthe form of prophecies.

  13. Amit khaira /

    I like it if it blends in well with the narrative … allows me to immerse myself in they world . On the flip side , it can take me out of the narrative if not done well

  14. Earl Livings,if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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