Back to Basics: Poetry as a Genre

I was having a conversation with a friend about genre and the expectations that are inherently within labeling and categorizing different modes of writing.  Although as an English major, you’d think I’d notice genre a lot more, but I really don’t until I walk into a bookstore (mostly to avoid the “Teen Paranormal Romance” section).  This could be due to the face that within the Creative Writing track at Geneseo when we take workshops they’re strictly in the genre of “literary” fiction or CNF.  I was having this discussion because my friend had just recently read the book We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart–a book of the Young Adult genre. 

The novel is considered YA fiction, and it’s a book that’s gotten a lot of hype and positive reviews.  So when I asked her if she liked it, she said she didn’t but that maybe I would because the style of writing was really unique–sort of prose and sort of poetry.  This piqued my curiosity so I took a peek at her copy and read the first chapter cringing at the abstract poetic language (which my friend had described as “flowery”).  Regardless of my feelings about the quality of the writing the book has been receiving very high praise.

So this all got me thinking: as writers how are we constricted by the genres we have created for ourselves; and in turn how can we break out of them?  To what extent can we even break out of them before our writing becomes a new genre?  Genre is built around a reader’s expectations.  We Were Liars is marketed as a YA fiction novel, yet a vast majority of it is written as a mix bag of prose and poetry.  What does it mean when these genres start to blend?

All this has be getting frustrated at the prose poem again. WHAT ARE YOU DOING PROSE POEM GOSH DARN IT I DON’T UNDERSTAND.  And it also makes me think of Katie’s issue distinguishing prose poems and lyric essays.  Is a prose poem just a poem because we decide it is?  I’m still figuring it all out.  While I don’t consider myself a “tidy” writer by any means I understand the want to read something that’s able to stay within the bounds of a genre.  But seeing how far we as writers can push past these boundaries is always more exciting.

So what do you all see as distinct qualities of the “genre” of poetry?  Have you read anything that totally and radically defies this?  I’m also really interested to know if anyone else has read We Were Liars and what they thought about the book.

One Reply to “Back to Basics: Poetry as a Genre”

  1. I didn’t read that but I read The Boyfriend List and Dramarama back in middle school, hahahaha. I don’t remember much from those books but I don’t think I took a step back and thought, “This is great, complex writing” like I’ve done with some other YA authors.

    I think it’s important that writers do try to push their own boundaries. I think that many of them who are initially trying to get published will stay within those genre constraints though. Lockhart’s old YA books were really straightforward YA fiction. I mean look at the titles I listed above. But kudos for her for trying something new even if it wasn’t your cup of earl grey. I guess writers are like any types of artists–you get bored doing the same old thing over and over again and you want to push your boundaries.

    Also, I didn’t answer what I thought defined as distinct qualities of a genre. I think it’s largely decided by the writing community within that genre. I don’t have a concrete answer though.

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