Poetry at the book club–let’s talk about it

Book clubs are a good way for a book to spread by word of mouth. I remember reading that’s how The Kite Runner became so popular. It was a good book, but it didn’t sell so well until it came out in paperback and people began to read it in their book clubs.

I’ve thought that if my book could get picked up by a couple of book clubs, that would help it find an audience, help it spread.

But I’ve wondered about two things.

People might worry about poetry

Sometimes, people have reservations about reading poetry. Maybe it’s going to be hard or maybe they won’t understand it.

Or maybe reading a book of poems doesn’t feel like you’ve read a whole book.

But you could think of it as a continuum: You have your novels and your nonfiction, an then you’ve got your short story collections (they’re books!) and then you’ve got poetry (like very condensed, compressed short stories).

People talk about the book

People in a book club don’t just read the book, they discuss it.

Have you noticed that many recent novels even include suggested book club questions in the back, ways to spark the discussion? I confess I’m not a fan–when I’ve scanned the first few questions, they’ve rubbed me the wrong way.

But those canned questions made me ask: How would you talk about a book of poems?

In a novel, the questions might ask about characters and their interactions or about plot twists. Some poetry books have characters and plot twists, too.

Spoon River Anthology is all characters (with some references to previous interactions). What the Ice Gets, by Melinda Mueller, has characters and what a plot–Shackleton’s voyage. Plume, by Kathleen Flenniken, also explores historical events and places–this time from both history’s vision and a personal perspective. Names Above Houses, by Oliver de la Paz, has characters, and its sequences provide a plot (things happen). What are some others?

And what about books of poems that don’t have a set cast of characters, a plot? How would you frame, or even start, a discussion? “My favorite was…” “I liked…” “I didn’t like…” “I didn’t get…” Okay, that’s fine, it’s fast, and you can pour some more wine.

But can you think of a better set of questions? If asked, what questions would you suggest for your book–or for your favorite book?

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2 comments

  1. Kathleen Atkins’s avatar

    What do you admire? What snagged your attention? What induced you to stay with this poem, one line to the next? How did it move you, either intellectually or emotionally–or both?

  2. joannie’s avatar

    Good ones! Thanks, Kathleen. I especially like “What snagged your attention?”
    I’m also thinking about “What recurring images or themes did you find in the poems?”

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