If you prefer to write poetry over prose but still want to write a memoir, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from writing your memoir in poetry. And you wouldn’t be the first by a long shot.
Like a series of stories, a series of poems can break down poem by poem to provide information about a point in time and, taken together, the series will build a full narrative. Poetry is the format, but the genre is still memoir. By the end of the book, the reader learns about a segment of, or significant event in, the author’s life.
So it’s not just a book of poetry by one author. The poems must relate to the topic of the memoir and proceed in an order that makes sense to the reader. As with any memoir, the chapters—or poems—do not have to roll out in chronological order. You can start in the middle, then cover earlier parts, and finish by picking up from that first middle part with a conclusion. You can begin at the end and work backwards, or you can begin at the end and then go to the beginning and follow through full circle. If you’re skilled enough to make it work, your chapters can even jump around. These considerations are no different whether you’re writing in poetry, in prose, or in customary nonfiction reporting.
Currently Memoirs Written in Verse
If you’d like to pick up books of memoirs written as verse, we have some suggestions for you. For some reason, these poet/memoirists are all women. Five of these are listed on bookriot.com.
Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhhà Lai
A Vietnamese girl has a tough time growing up as a refugee in Alabama.
Memoir: Poems by Honor Moore
by Honor Moore
Reviewing this memoir by the poet Honor Moore, The Village Voice reviewer wrote: “Moore’s poems speak of a strong faith in hard work and in the land of working alone. Her poems mark out both the experiences she describes and . . . the experience of making a book of poems.”
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
The Black girl experiences of the 1960s-1970s fold out through verse.
Poetry for Men: A memoir written across three continents
by The Expiring Mind
Even this one seems to be written by a woman—perhaps it is her message to men told through memoir and poetry.
How I Discovered Poetry
by Marilyn Nelson
One of the country’s celebrated poets uses her craft in 50 poems to describe her 1950s childhood.
by Lucinda Watson
Through 64 poems, the granddaughter of IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr., paints a picture of complicated family relationships and growing up with privilege.
Under the Mesquite
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Somewhat fictionalized, this poetic account tells of a child dealing with her mother’s cancer diagnosis.
Pocket Poetry Day 2022: April 29
April 29 is Pocket Poetry Day. To celebrate poetry, post your poet on social media with the hashtage #PocketPoem. We’d love it if you’d hashtag #writemymemoirs as well!
The 2022 poster shown above was designed by eleventh grader Lara L. from Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers, New York. Her poster won the 2022 National Poetry Month Poster Contest and features a line by 2021 Presidential Inaugural Poet and 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.