Get your poetry out of my narrative!

So, I’m a bit of a weirdo. One of the hardest things about being a weirdo is that you don’t know if you’re weird in any given moment, or if how you are is actually normal in this one case. There’s a reason I love the internet so much: It reveals that my weirdness is often shared by so many people!

So, this is a thing that I think is weird, but maybe it’s not. Let me know what you think.

I have a hard time reading poetry and songs when they appear in novels. 

So, if I’m reading a book of poetry, I enjoy the poetry. I let myself sink into the words. Spoon River Anthology and The Lay of the Lord are two books that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. I’ve got a very old copy of Robert Burns poetry that tickled me greatly back during college. And of course Doctor Seuss is always fantastic. So it’s not that I don’t like poetry.

And it’s not that I don’t like song lyrics. I often get the lyrics wrong because my ears aren’t great, causing my Bride to laugh at me, but I still love belting out songs. Lately, my family has been doing a lot of singing to The Greatest Showman.

I don’t have a problem when poetry shows up in movies or tv shows. I love it when movies and tv shows become musicals, too. There’s a reason that Phineas and Ferb was a favorite tv show here for such a long time.

And when nonfiction books quote song lyrics or poetry, I eat that up. I’m currently reading a book entitled It’s Not Too Late for my ministry. One chapter quoted the Psalms very heavily. And I loved it. The book helped me dig into those passages and apply them in some neat ways.

Nope. It’s pretty much just when poetry or song lyrics show up in novels that I’m like, “Not interested.”

And I don’t know why. When you take “The Road Goes Ever On and On” out of context, I revel in it. But when it shows up in Fellowship of the Ring (the book, not the movie), my eyes glaze over. Just not interested. Even when the poetry is necessary for plot development, such as in Redwall, I just sort of scan over it.

All I can think is that I don’t like my poetry and my fiction mixing, which is ridiculous. Poetry enriches a world (as Tolkien knew very well). Music is part of any world and probably should be considered whenever an author enters a fictional location.

Like I said: I guess I’m a weirdo.

Weirdos aren’t always logical. Sometimes a weirdo is a weirdo because they see the illogic in a situation that everyone has accepted. That’s not the case here, clearly.

I think what’s going on is that when I read a story, I want to follow the story. Let me get those plot developments. Let me get to know those characters better. I want to see what happens. And so often, when poetry shows up in a novel, action stops. It may reveal something about the character and the world, but it feels like an interruption to me.

I recall reading a Doctor Doolittle book when I was younger. In this particular novel, the good doctor encounters a turtle so ancient it was around during Noah’s flood. Doctor Doolittle asks the turtle to tell its story. And for hundreds of pages, the turtle does. Clearly the entire thing was an excuse to tell this other story that had nothing to do with Doctor Doolittle.

And for the entirety of the book… I was just frustrated. I wanted to read about Doctor Doolittle, not some random turtle from years and years ago.

And I think for some reason, my brain reads poetry as that kind of intrusion: It’s not what the story is about, so I don’t want to read it.

Anyway, I’m a weirdo. But you knew that. This is just more evidence of the same.

How about you? Do you like it when poetry intrudes on the narrative? Does it enrich the world you’re reading about? Or does it interfere with your enjoyment of the story? What do you think? Or would you rather let me know how much of a weirdo I am?

Published by Jon

Jon lives in Kentucky with his wife and an insanity of children. (A group of children is called an insanity. Trust me.)

One thought on “Get your poetry out of my narrative!

  1. I’m guilty of putting songs/lyrics/poetry in my writing. I’m not TOO big a fan of it as a reader. (The one big exception being the “original” rendition of “Hey Diddle Diddle” by Frodo at the Prancing Pony in Bree in The Fellowship of the Ring.) But sometimes the situation and/or characters make it compelling.

    So, not a big fan, but I do appreciate it and use it when justification is overwhelming. Even then, however, please keep it short.

    Now, being INSPIRED by music lyrics is another matter entirely. In my Martian Westerns, I’m slipping in the semblance of lyrics from Cowboy songs into each of the novellas. Written as prose, and somewhat “Martian-ized”, most people won’t even recognize them. (Difficulty further increased since very few people know the lyrics to Cowboy songs.)


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