Poetry or Prose: Why Not Both?

Calliope June, who prefers to go by Calli, lives with Tourette syndrome, which makes her make funny faces, clap her hands, stomp her feet, and do any number of things. She’s moved into a new town where she wants to fit in, and her neighbor seems like a nice boy. Jinsong is the most popular boy in school, everyone’s pal, and is the only one who sees Calli for the person she is, rather than her tics. But Jin is scared that hanging out with Calli will ruin his reputation at school and make him an outcast, too. Whenever the story is in Calli’s perspective, it’s told in poetry. Whenever it’s told in Jin’s, it’s in prose. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Forget Me Not (on sale March 2017) is a lovely little slice of life story, which is my favorite kind. It’s a lot about acceptance and not letting yourself get swept away by appearances, but more than that, it’s nuanced without using so many words. It’s descriptive and deep and emotional without telling you what you’re supposed to feel. You see, Calli’s parts are written in all sorts of poetry. Some of it is visual, the words fluttering across the page like so many leaves, and some of it is chunky, giving a little more voice to what’s going on in Calli’s mind. Some of it is long and thin like a light pole. But every single poem conveys something just so. And beautifully.

It got me thinking about how we sometimes rely so much on words and exposition, we forget that there are endlessly different ways to put them on a page. It reminded me a little bit of Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, which also utilized some poetry and illustrations to convey our main girl’s emotional state or what was going on, or even A Series of Unfortunate Events, which occasionally does kooky things like leaving two pages entirely black and blank after describing the perfect darkness of an elevator shaft. It’s all a step away from, say, an epistolary novel, or one that’s told primarily in emails, where you have to fill in the blanks left between replies.

I love that.

I love it when it’s the little bit that says a lot. I love it when there are different things on every page, new structures and images and things that let you focus on the feelings and story rather than the words. Reading this, I felt Calli’s frustration with not being able to hide her tics. I understood why she likes to dress in the most outdated, odd, eye-grabbing outfits she possibly can, because she feels that it takes attention away from her face and arms and whatever they’re up to. Of course, a lot of this comes from the fact that the author (Ellie Terry) also lives with TS. She would know.

So, now I wonder… what other books have you read that combine different forms of storytelling like this? That intersperse poetry with the prose, or rely on different formats and devices to tell the whole story? Give me your Brian Selznicks. Inquiring minds want to know.

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