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  • Influence Poetry and Found Poetry:The Reflection of Creative Writing Pedagogy in the Verse Novel for Young Readers
  • Krystal Howard (bio)

While the contemporary verse novel for young readers includes a range of texts across a variety of genres and topics, a significant portion of these texts focus on the education and development of the young artist.1 Sharon Creech's Love That Dog (2001) was one of the earliest children's verse novels to feature the coming of age experience of a burgeoning poet, Jack, who looks to predecessors William Carlos Williams, William Blake, and Walter Dean Myers to inspire his own writing. In this essay, I examine the education of the young poet in Creech's text and in three recently published verse novels marketed to young readers: Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming (2014), K. A. Holt's Rhyme Schemer (2014), and Kwame Alexander's Booked (2016). Each of these texts advocates for the value of stylistic imitation via the depiction of children who write influence or erasure poems, a move that leads to emotional maturation for the characters within the texts, while serving as evidence that creative writing pedagogy can be accessible to the young readers situated outside the texts.

Each of these verse novels also engages directly with the relationship between artistic creation and an artist's environment. Creech and Holt depict young, white men developing poetic sensibilities reluctantly in order to assist them in expressing their emotions, and Woodson and Alexander feature burgeoning African American poets thoughtfully and intentionally selecting model poets who mirror their realities and allow them to showcase their nascent creativity. In addition, Woodson and Alexander's verse novels highlight model poetry that emphasizes racial tensions: Brown Girl Dreaming explores growing up during the civil rights era and the impact of Langston Hughes on a young writer, and Booked describes a contemporary protagonist erasing parts of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, [End Page 218] a novel that is often cited and even censored for its repeated use of a racial slur. The influence poems and found poems within these verse novels reflect sociocultural concerns and follow the long-standing tradition in children's literature of using texts as pedagogical tools that model behavior (and more specifically, in this case, writing behavior) for young readers.2

The depiction of the education of the young poet in these collections also has implications for the contemporary Künstlerroman narrative tradition, in which loss is often a central motivator for personal growth.3 Just as each protagonist's writing reflects a connection between artistic motivation and social evolution, an element of loss becomes the catalyst that allows the writer-protagonist to recognize the power of language and to pursue his or her art as an act of healing (Trites 69–70). Moreover, as the protagonists in these texts are shown to benefit from reading and writing poetry, young readers outside the texts witness this phenomenon and may be less likely to feel distanced from the creative process. Noting that the only way a young person can develop into an artist is by shedding fear, Woodson reveals in a recent interview that, as a child, she had to let go of anxiety surrounding her calling as an artist: "I used to be afraid of poetry. I thought it was some secret code only certain people were supposed to understand. . . . But I know now that poetry belongs to all of us" ("Lift Every Voice"). Likewise, Alexander explains why he chose poetry as a medium:

The way the word can move on the page can really grab you in and get your attention. . . . There are some topics that lend themselves better to poetry…. There's a lot that boys especially don't like to talk about. We don't have the language. We're not given the language to be able to share these thoughts, these pains, and these emotions. Poetry is a way that allows us to deal with those things and to understand ourselves—to cope and to heal.

(McGrath, "AChat with Kwame Alexander")

The verse novel is uniquely situated to address pain and healing because its form draws attention to itself as a created artifact...


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pp. 218-237
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