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Author Jason Guriel's new work focuses on entertaining people, he sees his verse novels as a form of poetry that might reach outside the insular culture of poets and engage more general readers.Jason Guriel/Supplied

After his 2022 essay collection On Browsing, a melancholy homage to material media (CDs, LPs, DVDs and print), Jason Guriel has returned to verse. The Full-Moon Whaling Chronicles, his second novel in rhyming couplets, continues a few years after his first, Forgotten Work. Montreal is still a crater, Newfoundland is underwater and housing is so scarce that the poorer demographics need to resize themselves before entering their tight abodes. The novel takes place on two connected planes: a young-adult saga of seafaring werewolves in search of a whale, and the lives of its readers in the year 2070.

The Globe spoke with Guriel about pop culture, the future of poetry and making rhyme cool again.

Why have we stopped reading poetry?

Poetry has become very insular in North America. Most people who read poetry in Canada and the U.S. are themselves also aspiring poets, so it’s a subculture talking to itself and not reaching out and engaging the more general reader.

Some critics blame the MFA creative-writing workshop industrial complex because it breeds poets who themselves go on to teach other poets how to become poets et cetera. Dana Gioia wrote “Can poetry matter?” 30 years ago, and that was the first influential critique of how the creative-writing industry had cut the art form off from the larger readership.

I started writing verse novels because I wanted to entertain people. I wanted to write the form of poetry that might reach outside the insular culture and engage readers of novels.

Booksellers can legitimately put your novel in the sci-fi, fantasy and YA sections, as well as poetry.

I think so. My hope is that if you’re into poetry, you can pick up this book and enjoy the rhyme and the meter, but if you’re not sure if poetry is your thing, you can just read the narrative and ignore the couplets.

Should poetry be more populist, then? In the best sense of the term.

The poets that I love are the poets who are trying to delight me and hold my attention and captivate me. I love Robert Frost and Clive James. There are poets who require a slightly more academic approach and I’m cool with that, but the poets that have always connected with me are poets who want a readership.

When you read the great American poet Kay Ryan, it’s obvious that she is writing for everyone. She wants everyone to be able to enjoy the poetry and grapple with it but she is in no way dumbing down. It’s all very sophisticated.

What do you think of the argument that poetry moved to pop music, and that songs now have a place in our lives once occupied by poems?

There’s something to that. And we can add hip hop. I have young kids and they love some of the Disney movies that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote. If you listen to his lyrics in Encanto and Moana, there’s a lot of refined wordplay, energy – it’s virtuoso stuff. Same goes for certain pop songs. It’s sad though that the pure poetry on the written page is not carrying the day. I would like to make this book into a small pop product of its own.

A lot of the poets have given up and we’re letting pop music, hip hop and Disney have those triumphs with language. Poets can entertain an audience. I write these verse novels as if the world is listening. Entertainment has become a dirty word, but I see it as a worthy goal. I actually think it’s hard to entertain people. To quote William Deresiewicz looking at Netflix, there is so much in our culture that’s dead boring. Intelligent entertainment is not easy to do.

Did we ever have quintessentially Canadian poets? You often hear: X is so English, Y can’t be more American.

Carmine Starnino has written about Canada’s attempts to produce a national poetry, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, [Margaret Atwood’s] Survival era. People were trying to grapple with that idea but the attempts to do that led to the championing of the verse that was kind of anemic: free verse about the wilderness and similar.

A lot of the contemporary Canadian poets are a little bit more cosmopolitan and are drawing on a larger, more global aesthetic tradition. If you were writing in rhyme and meter in the sixities, seventies, eighties in Canada, that was seen as retrograde and conservative.

In one scene in your new novel, a university lecturer says, “rhyme is bourgeois.” How did it come to that? Wouldn’t rhyme be more easily consumed and popular?

When free verse took hold after World War Two and became really popular, it was associated with confessional poetry and the beat poets and the new, left-of-centre poetic traditions. And people began to find rhyme and meter stuffy and traditional: That’s your grandparents’ poetry – we’re unlocking all this freedom.

Adrienne Rich is a perfect example. She started off as a terrific writer. She was a formalist, wrote beautiful stuff, and then as she became more political in the 1960s and 70s she decided to write poetry that casts off of traditional forms. A lot of poets made that choice. But if I put a free-verse poem in front of a loved one who doesn’t read much poetry, they scratch their head. If I put a Robyn Sarah poem that’s written in rhyme and meter, it’s immediately pleasurable and funny and entertaining. There’s a form that’s delivering these microdoses of joy.

I don’t think this novel would have been possible without rhyme and meter. Had I tried to write this in free verse, it would have been too chaotic. The couplet enabled me to be outlandish. I could be fantastical and sci-fi, because I was grounding the reader in that couplet, line by line by line.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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