20 Great Novels by Poets

I love reading novels by poets because I always look for superb narration whatever I read. If a story is well told, I generally don’t care much about the subject, and I like to lose myself in the magical music of the writer, that is, the narration. And I think that the easiest way to find good narration is to read novels by poets. After all, they are the masters of the music of words, aren’t they?

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20 Great Novels by Poets

There are novelists turned poets in this novels by poets list and vice versa. I wanted to make sure there are various kinds of novels for every reader, and I wanted it to be diverse so you’ll find writers from around the world. I hope you’ll find a book to your liking in this novels by poets list.

Novels by Poets

The Mountains Sing - Nguyen Phan Que Mai

The Mountains Sing – Nguyen Phan Que Mai

One family, two generations of women and a war that will change their lives forever

Ha Noi, 1972. Hương and her grandmother, Trần Diệu Lan, cling to one another in their improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. For Trần Diệu Lan, forced to flee the family farm with her six children decades earlier as the Communist government rose to power in the North, this experience is horribly familiar. Seen through the eyes of these two unforgettable women, The Mountains Sing captures their defiance and determination, hope and unexpected joy. 

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Việt Nam, celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyễn’s richly lyrical debut weaves between the lives of a grandmother and granddaughter to paint a unique picture of a country pushed to breaking point and a family who refuse to give up. An award-winning among novels by poets.

Remembering Babylon - David Malouf

Remembering Babylon – David Malouf

In this rich and compelling novel, written in language of astonishing poise and resonance, one of Australia’s greatest living writers gives and immensely powerful vision of human differences and eternal divisions.  In the mid-1840s a thirteen-year-old British cabin boy, Gemmy Fairley, is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aborigines.

Sixteen years later he moves back into the world of Europeans, among hopeful yet terrified settlers who are staking out their small patch of home in an alien place. To them, Gemmy stands as a different kind of challenge: he is a force that at once fascinates and repels. His own identity in this new world is as unsettling to him as the knowledge he brings to others of the savage, the aboriginal. A gem from Australia among novels by poets.

Leaving the Atocha Station - Ben Lerner

Leaving the Atocha Station – Ben Lerner

Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his attitude towards art. Fuelled by strong coffee and self-prescribed tranquillizers, Adam’s ‘research’ soon becomes a meditation on the possibility of authenticity, as he finds himself increasingly troubled by the uncrossable distance between himself and the world around him. It’s not just his imperfect grasp of Spanish, but the underlying suspicion that his relationships, his reactions, and his entire personality are just as fraudulent as his poetry. A poet character among novels by poets.

Autobiography Of Red - Anne Carson

Autobiography Of Red – Anne Carson

A poetlike novel among novels by poets. The award-winning poet Anne Carson reinvents a genre in Autobiography of Red, a stunning 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. By turns whimsical and haunting, erudite and accessible, richly layered and deceptively simple, Autobiography of Red is a profoundly moving portrait of an artist coming to terms with the fantastic accident of who he is. A popular one among novels by poets.

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Working as an intern for a New York fashion magazine in the summer of 1953, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. Esther’s vision of the world shimmers and shifts: day-to-day living in the sultry city, her crazed men-friends, the hot dinner dances . . .

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, is partially based on Plath’s own life. It has been celebrated for its darkly funny and razor sharp portrait of 1950s society, and has sold millions of copies worldwide. The most popular one among novels by poets.

The Notebook - Agota Kristof

The Notebook – Agota Kristof

These three internationally acclaimed novels have confirmed Agota Kristof’s reputation as one of the most provocative exponents of new-wave European fiction. With all the stark simplicity of a fractured fairy tale, the trilogy tells the story of twin brothers, Claus and Lucas, locked in an agonizing bond that becomes a gripping allegory of the forces that have divided brothers in much of Europe since World War II.

Kristof’s postmodern saga begins with The Notebook, in which the brothers are children, lost in a country torn apart by conflict, who must learn every trick of evil and cruelty merely to survive. In The Proof, Lucas is challenging to prove his own identity and the existence of his missing brother, a defector to the other side. The Third Lie, which closes the trilogy, is a biting parable of Eastern and Western Europe today and a deep exploration into the nature of identity, storytelling, and the truths and untruths that lie at the heart of them all. A Hungarian among novels by poets.

Malina - Ingeborg Bachmann

Malina – Ingeborg Bachmann

Part detective novel, part love story, part psychoanalytic case study, Malina is a staggering portrait of a writer trying to tell her own story in a world dominated by men among novels by poets.

‘I was subordinate to him from the beginning, and I must have known early on that he was destined to be my doom’

A woman in postwar Vienna walks a tightrope between the two men in her life. There is her lover Ivan, beautiful and unavailable, who obsesses her. And there is Malina, the civil servant with whom she shares an apartment: reserved, fastidious, exacting, chillingly calm. As the balance of power between them starts to shift, she feels her fragile identity unravelling, gradually revealing the dark, bruised heart of her past. A magnificent one among novels by poets.

The Bone People - Keri Hulme

The Bone People – Keri Hulme

Winner of the Booker Prize in 1985 among novels by poets, The Bone People is the story of Kerewin, a despairing part-Maori artist who is convinced that her solitary life is the only way to face the world. Her cocoon is rudely blown away by the sudden arrival during a rainstorm of Simon, a mute six-year-old whose past seems to hold some terrible trauma. In his wake comes his foster-father Joe, a Maori factory worker with a nasty temper.

The narrative unravels to reveal the truths that lie behind these three characters, and in so doing displays itself as a huge, ambitious work that tackles the clash between Maori and European characters in beautiful prose of a heartrending poignancy. A gem among novels by poets.

Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened – while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.

United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love’s endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love… One of the most popular novels by poets.

The Tin Drum - Günter Grass

The Tin Drum – Günter Grass

On his third birthday, Oskar decides to stop growing. Haunted by the deaths of his parents and wielding his tin drum Oskar recounts the events of his extraordinary life; from the long nightmare of the Nazi era to his anarchic adventures in post-war Germany. A classic among novels by poets.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong

This is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born. It tells of Vietnam, of the lasting impact of war, and of his family’s struggle to forge a new future. And it serves as a doorway into parts of Little Dog’s life his mother has never known – episodes of bewilderment, fear and passion – all the while moving closer to an unforgettable revelation. A contemporary gem among novels by poets.

Train Dreams - Denis Johnson

Train Dreams – Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is an epic in miniature, one of his most evocative and poignant fictions. It is the story of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century—an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime. Suffused with the history and landscapes of the American West, this novella captures the disappearance of a distinctly American way of life. A novella among novels by poets.

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness - Jennifer Tseng

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness – Jennifer Tseng

Books may be Mayumi Saito’s greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi’s work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. That is, until the day she issues a library card to a shy seventeen-year-old boy and swiftly succumbs to a sexual obsession that subverts the way she sees the library, her family, the island she lives on, and ultimately herself.

Exquisitely written, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness is part wry confession, part serious meditation. At its most anxious, it’s a book about time, at its most ecstatic, it’s a deeply human story about pleasure among novels by poets.

Fugitive Pieces - Anne Michaels

Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels

In 1940 a boy bursts from the mud of a war-torn Polish city, where he has buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. His name is Jakob Beer. He is only seven years old. And although by all rights he should have shared the fate of the other Jews in his village, he has not only survived but been rescued by a Greek geologist, who does not recognize the boy as human until he begins to cry. With this electrifying image, Anne Michaels ushers us into her rapturously acclaimed novel of loss, memory, history, and redemption.
 
As Michaels follows Jakob across two continents, she lets us witness his transformation from a half-wild casualty of the Holocaust to an artist who extracts meaning from its abyss. Filled with mysterious symmetries and rendered in heart-stopping prose, Fugitive Pieces is a triumphant work, a book that should not so much be read as it should be surrendered to. My fave among novels by poets.

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge - Rainer Maria Rilke

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge – Rainer Maria Rilke

While his old furniture rots in storage, Malte Laurids Brigge lives in a cheap room in Paris, with little but a library reader’s card to distinguish him from the city’s untouchables. Every person he sees seems to carry their death with them, and he thinks of the deaths, and ghosts, of his aristocratic family, of which only he remains. The only novel by one of the greatest writers of poetry in German, the semi-autobiographical Notebooks is an uneasy, compelling and poetic book that anticipated Sartre and is full of passages of lyrical brilliance among novels by poets.

As a Friend - Forrest Gander

As a Friend – Forrest Gander

Heroism is a secondary virtue, Albert Camus noted, but friendship is primary. In his gem-like first novel, Forrest Gander writes of friendship, envy, and eros as a harmonic of charged overtones. Set in a rural southern landscape as vivid as its indelible characters, As a Friend tells the story of Les, a gifted man and land surveyor, whose impact on those around him (his friend Clay, his girlfriend Sarah) provokes intense self-examination and an atmosphere of dangerous eroticism. With poetic insight, Gander explores the nature of attraction, betrayal, and loyalty. What he achieves is brilliant in style and powerfully unsettling. A must-read among novels by poets.

The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing - Joseph Fasano

The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing – Joseph Fasano

Deep in the mountains of British Columbia, across an unforgiving landscape, one man’s pursuit of a fabled mountain lion leads him into the furthest reaches of himself. As he struggles to confront the wilderness surrounding him—from the baying hounds to the relentless northern snows—he journeys into his own haunted memories: a life of wild horses and ballet, fishing skiffs and blizzards, tropical seas and dolphins. Through wind, snow, and the depths of grief, he asks what price he is willing to exact on a world that ravages what we love, and whether redemption awaits those who learn to forgive. An intriguing one among novels by poets.

The Murder of Halland - Pia Juul

The Murder of Halland – Pia Juul

Bess and Halland live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else. When Halland is found murdered in the main square the police encounter only riddles. For Bess bereavement marks the start of a journey that leads her to a reassessment of first friends, then family. A mystery among novels by poets.

Hot Milk - Deborah Levy

Hot Milk – Deborah Levy

Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She’s frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and Rose travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant, Dr. Gomez—their very last chance—in the hope that he might cure Rose’s unpredictable limb paralysis, but Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Rose’s illness becomes increasingly baffling.

Sofia’s role as detective—tracking Rose’s symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain—deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community. A contemporary among novels by poets.

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept - Elizabeth Smart

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept – Elizabeth Smart

First published in 1945, Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is an enigmatic and nearly indescribable book, a small classic of poetic prose whose author has been compared with Anaïs Nin and Djuna Barnes. In lushly evocative language, Smart recounts her love affair with the poet George Barker with an operatic grandeur that takes in the tragedy of her passion; the suffering of Barker’s wife; the children the lovers conceived.

Accompanied in this edition by The Assumption of the Rogues and Rascals, a short novel that may be read as its sequel, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept has been hailed by critics worldwide as a work of sheer genius among novels by poets.

Check out my other lists about books!

  1. 10 Uplifting Books
  2. Great Novels by Poets
  3. Feel-Good Cozy Mystery Series
  4. Autumn Books – 20 Cozy Novels
  5. Winter Books- 20 Atmospheric Novels
  6. 20 Captivating Gothic Books
  7. Japanese Books Under 200 Pages
  8. 20 Best Campus and Academic Novels
  9. 25 Intriguing Dark Academia Books
  10. 20 Literary Romance Novels
  11. 20 Best Food Culture and Food History Books
  12. Top 5 Haiku Books
  13. 15 Best Eco-fiction Novels
  14. Perfect Christmas Books
  15. 20 Best Turkish Books
  1. Books Set in Museums
  2. Books Set in Hotels
  3. Books Set on Islands
  4. Novels Set in Ancient Egypt
  5. Books Set in the English Countryside
  6. Books Set in Edinburgh
  7. Books Set in Istanbul
  8. Books Set in Forests
  1. Beautiful Novels About Books
  2. Best Books About Books
  3. Novels About Marriage
  4. Novels About Food
  5. Novels About Writers
  6. Books About Witches
  7. Novels About Ernest Hemingway
  8. Best Books About Birds
  9. Best Books About Walking
  10. Best Books About Tea
  11. Novels About Scents & Perfume

Are there any other novels by poets that should be on this list? Please share your favourite books with us in the comments section below.

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