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