to the small poem and the quiet voice within

ron koertge | what happens when a straight-talking first baseman takes a swing at writing poetry?

Writing for the Young Adult

Norbert Blei

Editor’s Note: There’s a ‘new wave’ out there concerning YA (Young Adult) writing. Leave it to the New York publishing industry to find yet another way to market and manufacture books for national consumption on all levels including children’s books—especially young adults, ages 12 and up. I suspect they finally exhausted the vampire theme, or the vampire bit back and there was no more blood money to be let.

For the past few years representatives of the New York YA brain trust seems to have discovered ‘literature.’ “Free Verse” in particular. And what they seem to have going are Young Adult Novels written in free verse. Page after page of ‘poems’ with an over reaching traditional narrative.


I’ve been following this for some time trying to get a handle on just what the hell they’re doing to do…Is it good? Bad? Ridiculous. (No conclusion, yet.)

The ‘good part” in some of these ‘free verse novels” —traditional literary techniques and forms are actually explored with humor, interest, ‘success’ in ways that do not always happen in the classroom. The poem “How Do You Do, Haiku” quoted below, from Ron Koertge’s SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP is a good example, and I would say the best of the lot of “Free Verse Novels” I’ve read so far. Though there are parts that remain implausible, clunky, weighted down with less than wonder—the all too visible hand of the writer or editor sticking things in to make everything sort of work.

My doubts, fears, criticisms, suspicions, speculations concerning this “next new wave” (Free Verse Novels) center around how much bad poetry is evident—page after page of plain sentences made to look like poems by merely breaking the line—whatever, wherever, whenever. One wonders: is there an economic aspect to this? Fewer pages to publish? Then there are the forced storylines/narratives; the writer-adult unsuccessfully trying to enter the mind of a young person, unsuccessfully trying to emulate the street-talk of the day; the subject matter, yet another visit to the dark side for ‘true-to-life’ details.

Suspect too that these Free Verse Novels reflect as well our high-tech times…a way to make the reading of traditional print somewhat comparable to the attention span of “reading” on the screen. Chapter, verse, and story reduced to email-like bites of mental consumption.

How Do You Do, Haiku

I thought I’d start small. I kind of
remember haiku from school last year.
I at least remember they’re little.

But, man— I never saw so many frogs
in the moonlight. And leaves. Leaves
all over the place.

Weren’t there any gardeners in ancient
Japan? Weren’t there any cats and dogs?

Still, haiku look easy. Sort of. Five
syllables in the first line, seven
in the second, five in the third.

Frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs.
Frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs.
Frogs, frogs, frogs, frogs, leaves.

Very funny, Kevin.

At least I finished it. I can’t finish anything
else, except my nap. Seventeen syllables
is just about right for somebody with my
reduced stamina. Perfect thing for an

Oh, man — look at that: in valid. I never
saw that before.

Just a single space
in a word I thought I knew
made the difference.

NOTE: At fourteen, Kevin Boland is a straight-talking MVP first baseman who can’t tell a ballad from a salad. But when he is diagnosed with mono and is forced to spend months at home recuperating, Kevin secretly borrows his father’s poetry book and starts writing, just to pass the time. Inside the book, Kevin discovers more than haiku and sonnets. He gains insight—sometimes humorous, sometimes painful—as he records his candid observations on junior-high romance, daydreams of baseball stardom, and sorrow over the recent death of his mother, and learns how words can open doors to the soul. * “This funny and poignant novel celebrates the power of writing to help young people make sense of their lives and unlock and confront their problems.” — School Library Journal *”Readers will find. themselves identifying with Kevin and perhaps come to understand his attraction to poetry.” — Booklist


  1. Jeffrey Winke

    Ugh! (my comment was rejected for being too brief, so I’ll say it again: Ugh!)

  2. jean

    Who could not love frogs frogs frogs frogs frogs?

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