Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 13, 2012


After spending several years focused on verse biographies, I’m writing a novel. This change wouldn’t be obvious to anyone on the hill on which I live, where neighbors mostly note the dogs by my legs, or maybe flashes of orange or red in hunting season. I don’t think change is particularly evident even inside the house, even to me. My handwriting is as messy as ever. Since the novel is historical, gorgeously old library books still waft their particular fragrance on my table. But my pages are more often filled to the margins. The stack gets thicker: I just broke past 300 pages, although who knows where I’ll be back when I take out bigger shears. I allow conversations to meander more, and build to grand misunderstandings or fleeting moments of love, ordinary as the click of a closing locket.

Those small moments within the sweep of action bring back the poet, who never entirely went away. She’s alert for alliteration, and blotting most out. Attentive to cadence, and making sure it seems honest.  And probably most of all hunkering over images with hands open like a child eager to catch a dragonfly or frog, then looks closely at what’s precariously held: for subtle beauty, and what this curious animal might say if she could speak. For signs of where she wants to go.

And as a novelist for the time being, I get to follow with a wildly waving net.

To celebrate Poetry Friday, please stop by  A Teaching Life, a blog sure to inspire anyone who teaches writing, or teaches, or writes.




  1. An interesting perspective. Curious as to how you ever “left’ poetry? I ask because I just told my wife on Wednesday “If I ever tell you I’m going to try to write a novel, stop me. Poetry fits my personality; I don’t have the attention span for anything else.” Sounds like that is not the case for you, so keep it up! Still, though, I’m interested to know how you separated the poet from the novelist in your mind. -Ed

    • Ed, that’s a good question. Which I could go on and on about, in a novelist sort of way. I love the precision and tightness of poetry, and I’ll always go back to it, but I also do love the swinging of a net. The poems I wrote were narrative, so that partly satisfied my sense of story. I like writing both, and I like reading both, and I guess I have a fairly springy attention span. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      • Makes sense. Funny how your personality can be reflected not just in the “stories” (loosely defined) that you write, but also in the form that you choose. -Ed

  2. Lovely, Jeannine – thank you for sharing. And I’m glad the alliteration in “I get to follow with a wildly waving net” made the cut – a fulsome image!

    • Robyn, thank you so much for your ever-supportive comments!

  3. You made your time feel delightful; a project in your life must feel lovely. Thank you for sharing about new ventures.

    • Thank you! When I’m not grumbling, I’m having some fun!

  4. Jeannine–thanks for sharing this. I both love the limits we who write novels-in-poems have, and rebel against them. WE ONLY HAVE SO MANY WORDS! I rant…and yet…and yet. One day, perhaps, I’ll dive headlong into a novel.
    ~ April

    • Yes, mostly I love the limits of a poem, and love the challenge of shaping a narrative within a small space. Sometimes it’s about the subject matter. I’m writing now about someone with not only a complicated life, but a complicated family, in a complicated time in history, and it just seemed to demand — space. And, yes, that headlong dive. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with sticking to verse.

  5. Hi Jeannine, I am sure that the change must be both painful and exhilarating at the same time. I love reading novels-in-verse, but unlike you, I have a feeling I don’t have the stamina nor the sheer willpower to create such a sustained lyrical beat that is true to one’s soul and sensibility. I must confess that I have fallen in love with novels-in-verse because of our bimonthly theme in GatheringBooks this November/December, and we are hoping to do a repeat sometime soon. I also chanced upon Liz Rosenberg’s 17 – while the novel is written in prose poem (quite similar to the one that you just posted here), I felt immensely moved in contrast to a few novels-in-verse which are just broken up fragments of thoughts. Best of luck with your novel. 🙂

    • Thank you so very much for your comment and best wishes — and now I’ll take out Liz Rosenberg’s book which I read when it came out. I love novels-in-verse, too, and expect I always will. Exposed by Kim Marcus was one of my favorites this year, and Under the Mesquite Tree. I’ll keep reading these and hope to write more, but for the time being am bucking up my stamina and keeping to prose — with bits that I hope show a poet’s eye.

  6. I love this, especially your hunkering over images…

    • Thank you, Ruth. Though I’m afraid I probably hunker too often — like scramble, it’s a word I go to, and have to make sure they’re not happening all over the place!

  7. “ordinary as the click of a closing locket…”

    Congratulations, Jeannine, on your new you. We’re all lucky that there will be more words carefully spilling from your pen…but somehow I hope you will always be a poet in novelist’s clothing. Your poetry will shine through the paragraphs! Thank you for always sharing your process – it’s a gift.

    • Thank you for the sweet thoughts, Amy. I hope one can turn to prose and still keep a poet’s eye and ear!

  8. I read your post over and over, savoring the sense of literary satisfaction and spirit of adventure this shift in writing has brought you. I could sense , too, a euphoria that comes with stepping out of the norm and into a wider world – “wildly waving net” is so appropriate an image!

    • Tara, thank you for your keen eyes and support of change! And yes, I think switching forms can make you question old rules and liven things up! There’s still so much paring to do that I’m amazed to see a pile of pages actually build. And little moments within a character’s sometimes prosaic day that make me catch my breath and think, yes, this might get to the heart of it all.

  9. Your post makes me think of the children’s book I just finished — Hound Dog True. It’s about how much of what’s important to us is hidden from view the view of the people around us.

    No one can tell by looking that you’re writing a novel instead of poetry, but it’s a huge and significant shift for you. But now that all of your blog readers know, we can cheer you on!

    • oh, interesting it made you think of Linda Urban’s wonderful novel. I could see my younger self in Mattie Breen. And what a great theme.

      And thank you for the cheers, Mary Lee. I can sure use every one. All those pages! Sometimes I feel like I’m juggling a thousand carpets, and sometimes — I’m just drowning!

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