Poets Who Write Prose

I love a well-crafted poetry collection as much as the next reader. But most often, I'm hankering for a story when I read. True or fictional, I want a compelling narrative, well told. Fortunately, many poets have turned their wordsmithing skills to prose, and their novels and memoirs are some of my favorites.

Marisa de los Santos began her career with the poetry collection From the Bones Out (Univ. of South Carolina, $14.95), but has found major success with her fiction, including Love Walked In (Penguin, $17); Belong to Me (HarperCollins, $14.99); and I'll Be Your Blue Sky (HarperCollins, $16.99). Her prose is simple, warmhearted and truly lovely, as are many of her characters.

Former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has published four books of poetry, including the 2019 collection Wade in the Water (Graywolf, $16). Her memoir, Ordinary Light (Knopf, $16), chronicles her childhood in California, her deep and loving (and sometimes fraught) relationship with her mother, and her journey toward poet as vocation. Her prose is as luminous and (sometimes) as sharp-edged as her poems.

Brian Doyle, the late editor of Portland magazine, wrote anything and everything: poems, prose poems, rambling essays, rollicking or thoughtful novels like Chicago (Picador, $17) and Mink River (Oregon State Univ. Press, $18.95). I'll read any and all of his work, though my absolute favorite is his brief essay on how he became a writer.

Poet Ross Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, $17) spent his 43rd year capturing ordinary joyful moments almost every day, and spinning them into "essayettes" that became his collection The Book of Delights (Algonquin, $23.95). Like the subject matter, the result is delightful--both the mosaic of quotidian, unexpected pleasures, and Gay's commentary on them. 

For readers who appreciate a well-turned phrase and an engaging story arc, poets who write prose offer the best of both literary worlds. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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