Poetry is expensive

All three of the John Cleaver books have a poem quote as an epigram, and all three used to have poems in the body of the novel. The epigrams are, in order:

Book 1:
“I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling on the floors of silent seas.” —The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot

Book 2:
“Since childhood’s hour I have not been as others were, I have not seen as others saw.” —Alone, Edgar Allen Poe

Book 3:
“Where always it’s Spring, and everyone’s in love, and flowers pick themselves.” —who knows if the moon’s, ee cummings

Each poem says something different, and relates to its book in a specific way. Each of them is also one of my favorites; who knows if the moon’s is my favorite ee cummings poem, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is my favorite poem ever.

The poems in the main body of the book are more complicated. In book 1, one of the characters recites a section of Tyger, Tyger by William Blake, and it works really well, and I’m very pleased with it. In book 2 a different character recited a section of “The Stolen Child, by William Butler Yeats, but I eventually had to take it out–not for permissions reasons or anything like that, but because I just couldn’t make it fit. I love poetry, arguably too much, but I don’t want to just cram it in where it doesn’t belong.

In book 3, one of the characters recites not a section but the entire text of, again, who knows if the moon’s by ee cummings. It’s an awesome poem, and has a special significance for the novel. But the thing is, ee cummings, like T.S. Eliot, is not public domain. I could get the other poems for free, because they’re old, but T. S. Eliot I had to pay about $300 dollars for, worldwide, and I was happy to do it because I thought it added significant value to the book. I was expecting to pay the same for ee cummings, but Norton (the publisher who owns the rights) wants a full $4000. Ouch. I’ve asked them if we can deal, and I’m still waiting to hear back (they are rather amazingly slow in their correspondence), but I don’t have high hopes. This morning I made the very painful decision to cut the poem out of the body of the novel, and just use the piece of it in the epigram, which will be much cheaper.

If worse comes to worst, I can chop out the epigram altogether and substitute the Yeats quote, which still fits the novel quite well (thought not as well as it fits book 2). I really don’t want to do that, though.

As a final note, i also have a piece of poetry as the epigram of my next book, the infamous Strawberry Fields, now titled Pain of Glass. That epigram, fortunately, comes from an Emily Bronte poem, and as such is fully in the public domain.

11 Responses to “Poetry is expensive”

  1. Katya says:

    Alternately, you could delay publication of the third book until around 2055, by which time cummings’ work will also be in the public domain. (I have very conflicted feelings about copyright law. I want artists and writers to be compensated for their work, but I dislike the way that corporate interests have tied up everything published after 1923.)

  2. Arlene says:

    All I know is that I love your use of poetry in everything I’ve read of yours. I hope it works out for you.

  3. Sean says:

    Dan, we very much have the same tastes in poets. My tag line on TWG is:

    this is the way the world ends,
    not with a bang, but a whimper
    ~T.S. Eliot

    Eliot, Poe, Keats . . . they say so much with so little.

  4. Rebecca Tayler says:

    Could you make a reference to quoting the poem and have the fan readers go read the poem online at the right time in the book?

    “John rolled into a recitation of ‘who knows if the moon’s’ with all of it’s heavenly hoping and dreaming.”

    Something like that? Only well written. You could describe the poem and what effect it has on the characters.

    Also, J. Alfred Prufrock IS the greatest poem on Earth. It was fun to see that someone else out there agrees.

  5. write me a poem baby..title of a H.Allan Smith book..I never was into poetry..and I don’t have time for a witty comment today..I’m watching soccer..actually I’m watching them good looking guys in the short shorts run around kicking a ball.

  6. Maija-Liisa says:

    Lame! I loved the cummings poem in the body of the third book. I hope they make a deal. If not, we should have a bake sale. Make those finger cookie things that every makes at Halloween, a cat cake with red velvet for the cake and singed fondant fur, etc. Really you should just go for the one cat cake, charge $4000 for it, and invite Brandon to the ‘bake sale.’

  7. Maija-Liisa says:

    Oops. Insert ‘one’ between every and makes.

  8. Chersti says:

    Lame! I’m all for hosting a bake sale. So if a poem is in public domain, is it free game? Or can Norton reprint the poem and claim copyright? I’m a little fuzzy on that area.

  9. Katya says:


    Whether or not something is in the public domain is based on the *original* publication date, so reprints don’t make a difference. (Well, it’s actually based on the original publication date, the death date of the creator, whether or not the copyright was registered when it was published, and whether or not it the copyright was renewed after it expired, depending on the original date of creation or publication. But the short answer to your question is that Norton can’t yank something out of the public domain by reprinting it.)

  10. Hannah says:

    Have you ever heard of tropes? Basically, ‘Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite.” In other words, dull and uninteresting.’
    The website lists books and movies and such and lists all the tropes in them – and guess what? You’re book is on there (very cool)!


  11. Chersti says:


    Thank you!!

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