Girls in books who write poetry, plus One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop

So here's a quote from a Newsweek article about Anne of Green Gables that's been on quite few blogs recently: "The literary smart girl is still showing up in literature, but she's often the sidekick," says Trinna Frever, an "Anne of Green Gables" scholar. "It is a reflection of a culture that's placing less value on intelligence, and also treating intelligence as a stigmatized quality."

I started thinking since last December about heirs to Anne, after reading Undercover, by Beth Kephart (Harper Teen,2007). This book, which was nominated for the YA Cybils awards, is about Elisa, a very engaging "literary smart girl" who writes poetry, falls in love, gets depressed about her family situation, ice skates alone on a frozen pond at night, has a great English teacher, and keeps a notebook of words. It's a lovely book--I just re-read it more peacefully than I had a chance to last fall (what with the other 120-ish ya books to read for the Cybils*), and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes metaphors, words qua words, and books about teenage girls.

I have been meaning to write about Undercover for Poetry Friday since reading it seven months ago, but I wanted to try to find other books about girls writing poetry, to provide context. It is easy to find lots of smart, sassy girls, but harder to find the girls who love words and writing, the same way that Anne, and her literary sister, Emily (the girl featured in LM Montgomery's other series) do. The only slightly modern one I can think of is Julia, in A Room Made of Windows, by Elinor Cameron (1971)(a fine book that, if you've never read it). But are there no other examples of fictional girls writing poetry from the mid 20th century on? I'll be the first to admit that I'm probably missing other obvious ones, but it is a hard thing to google.

Elisa's own poetry, examples of which are given in Undercover, are very good for a young writer. But the poem I like best in the book is one the English teacher makes her students read:

One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop (from Geography III, 1977)

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

I remember my English teacher in high school giving us Geography III to read (pretty avant garde of him to do so in 1983), and how my adolescent self found deep dark resonance in her words...I want to go back, and re-visit her again. And viz Undercover-isn't that a nice thing, when a book you like leads you to a poem you like, and inspires you to go read more?

And if anyone can think of other books about girls writing poetry, let me know!

* just wanted to say thank to Harper Teen, and all the other publishers who sent books for us Cybils committee people to read. Out of all the books I was sent, Undercover was one of just a handful I kept for myself, knowing that I'd want to re-read it...the rest found a good home at the library.


  1. My goodness. Thank you so much. I read the Newsweek story yesterday and was thinking a lot about smart girls (I can't seem to write about any other sort) and their role in books today. But I wouldn't ever imagine myself as a literary heir to that most wonderfully imaginative Anne of GG. I was actually going to post about her tomorrow, and may still do that.

    I am very grateful to you.

    And so honored that Elisa lives on, in your library.

    Take very good care,


  2. You've definitely whetted my appetite for Beth's book. Thanks for featuring it today :)!

  3. I really like Beth Kephart and I love that poem. I would love to have had an English teacher require that as reading for a class I took -- instead I found it as an adult. Oh well!

  4. VIcky Austin in Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light.

  5. Oh my gosh, Sherry, I knew I was missing someone obvious.

    Thank you, Beth, for writing the book!

    And thanks Jama and Tadmack for stopping in!

  6. High praise indeed, that you would go back and re-read this book! It's on my list now!

  7. The last line of that poem always gives me shivers. I read it as a senior in high school. It blew me away, because we had just learned the rules of the villanelle (after reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)and I thought they were set in stone.


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