7 Non-Poetry Books Written by Poets

The Crying Book by Heather Christle 

Heather Christle, the author of four poetry collections: The Difficult Farm (2009), The Trees (2011)—which won the Believer Poetry Award—What Is Amazing (2012), and Heliopause (2015), released her first nonfiction book in 2019. The Crying Book, which very much reminded me of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets in both eloquence of writing and how the book was formatted, is about loss, grief, and of course, crying. 


Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and now must reckon with her own depression and the birth of her first child. As she faces her grief and impending parenthood, she decides to research the act of crying: what it is and why people do it, even if they rarely talk about it. Along the way, she discovers an artist who designed a frozen-tear-shooting gun and a moth that feeds on the tears of other animals. She researches tear-collecting devices (lachrymatories) and explores the role white women’s tears play in racist violence. This book reads like a mosaic, exploring science, history, and Christle’s own lived experience to find new ways of understanding life, loss, and mental illness. 


Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith 

Finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction and a Belletrist Book pick, Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith is a must-read. Sarah Elaine Smith studied at the Michener Center for Writers, UT-Austin, and received an MFA in Poetry as well as at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for an MFA in Fiction. That’s right, two MFAs! Poetry comes into her exquisite prose as her debut novel focuses on a teenager who flees her family and carefully slips into another—replacing a girl whose own sudden disappearance still haunts the town. This portrait of overlooked girlhood was one of my favorite books of 2019. 


Oh the Moon: Stories from the Tortured Mind of Charlyne Yi  by Charlyne Yi 

Actress, comedian, musician, and poet, Charlyne Yi takes readers from a sky filled with vengeful clouds to the depths of a frog’s stomach, and to Hell and back, in her interconnected short stories and anecdotes, Oh the Moon: Stories from the Tortured Mind of Charlyne Yi. This illustrated collection blends comedy, fantastic adventures, and a storm of feelings that will make you want to laugh and cry at the same time—reminiscent of the works of Demetri Martin, Shel Silverstein, and John Cassavetes. 


Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

In this verse novel, Anne Carson, award-winning poet, points to the fact that poetry and fiction have never been strictly separate categories. Autobiography of Red is a beautiful work that is both a novel and a poem, both an unconventional re-creation of an ancient Greek myth and a wholly original coming-of-age story set in the present.


Geryon, a young boy who is also a winged red monster, reveals the volcanic terrain of his fragile, tormented soul in an autobiography he begins at the age of five. As he grows older, Geryon escapes his abusive brother and affectionate but ineffectual mother, finding solace behind the lens of his camera and in the arms of a young man named Herakles, a cavalier drifter who leaves him at the peak of infatuation. When Herakles reappears years later, Geryon confronts again the pain of his desire and embarks on a journey that will unleash his creative imagination to its fullest extent. Described as whimsical and richly layered, one will have no doubt that this was created by a poet. 


The Topeka School by Ben Lerner 

Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, writer and editor Ben Lerner is the author of several full-length poetry collections, including Mean Free Path (2010); Angle of Yaw (2006), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Northern California Book Award; and Mean Free Path (2010). His latest novel, The Topeka School, is a family drama set in the American Midwest at the turn of the century. Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart―who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient―into the social scene, to disastrous effect. The Topeka School was the Winner Of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. 


The Boyfriend Backtrack by Dawn Lanuza

Dawn Lanuza writes contemporary romance, young adult fiction, and poetry, including The Last Time I’ll Write About You and This is How It Starts. She started to self-publish in 2014 with her debut romance novel, The Boyfriend Backtrack, which was eventually published by Anvil Publishing. The Boyfriend Backtrack follows Regina Cortez as she navigates the world of dating from her dramatic high school boyfriend, her first college crush, the irresistible heart breaker, and the ever-elusive one. By backtracking to her past, will Regina make it to ‘I Do’? Or will she just keep running away? 


Hot Milk by Deborah Levy 

A personal favorite of mine, Deborah Levy leaves traces of her poetry background and the influences of Ezra Pound, H.D., Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and T.S. Eliot in all her work. Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, Hot Milk follows Sofia, a young anthropologist, who has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose, her mother, and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant—their very last chance—in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis. The dialogue is a testament to Levy’s skills as a playwright and its symbolism, sentences, and characters’ internal lives, to her skills as a poet.