Here’s an interesting book of poetry that, while not recent, certainly qualifies under the label “contemporary”: it was published in 2003. Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is an epistolary short novel that takes the form of a diary/notebook belonging to a fourteen-year-old boy who is laid up for the spring with mono.
Kevin begins writing down just his thoughts, about how he misses baseball and how he and his father are dealing with the death of his mother. His father is an English teacher, and so a handbook of poetry is fortunately kept on a bookshelf, and as Kevin continues to chronicle his recovery he experiments with putting things into verse.
It is pretty clear that Koertge is hoping to pitch poetry to young teens like Kevin. Poetry is instrumental in Kevin’s emotional healing and his getting a girlfriend. Kevin’s reluctant admission that he actually likes poetry is difficult at first (but it’s easier when the girl you like likes it too, right?). His discovery of sonnets goes hand-in-hand with the improvement of his health and his character. Koertge works a little technical instruction into the book as Kevin considers his use of metaphor, or discovers blank verse, but it’s not heavy handed. I have to say, I appreciate Kortege including metered verse along with other styles in this introduction to poetry.
This is one of those fascinating situations where I am unable to tell whether or not this book succeeds because I’m not really the target audience. If I assume correctly that Koertge’s primary objective was a book that would be enjoyed by teens, and to convince teen boys to consider the merits of poetry, one would really have to ask them, not me. I think the book is a great little story, but then, what does a fourteen-year-old care what I think? Part of my concern is that the target audience would simply interpret it as propaganda. Of course, it is, but it’s not bad propaganda. I support the effort. I now need to find a fourteen-year-old smart-but-non-literary athlete and hand him this book, and follow up later.
Hey, it turns out there’s a sequel! If anyone has read it, let me know what you think.