Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The poetry of “Where the Crawdads Sing” April 8, 2022

Image source: goodreads

IF I HADN’T CAUGHT the news flash in an entertainment segment on an early morning TV show recently, I doubt I would have read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. But I did. And the book proved so riveting that I didn’t want to put it down. You know the type of book, when you stay up past your bedtime to read.

Published in 2018, this New York Times fiction bestseller, releases in July as a movie. So I suppose my timing in reading this is about right. Not that I will see the film. Big screen versions, after I’ve read a book, usually disappoint. Plus, I am not a movie-goer; the last time I went to a movie (three years ago), I walked out and asked for a refund (which I got).

All that aside, that I read Where the Crawdads Sing in April, National Poetry Month, is also fitting. More on that in a bit.

First a summary: Set along the coastal marshes of North Carolina, this book tells the story of young Kya, beginning in 1952. Her family abandons her and she grows up, isolated, alone, connecting with nature. Known to locals as “Marsh Girl,” she reads poetry to gulls, boats through the marshland, immerses herself in learning and studying and documenting the surrounding natural world.

In following her story, which is much more complicated than someone living alone in a remote location, I learned a lot about an area of the US I’ve never even come close to visiting. That includes the many birds which focus Kya’s attention. It’s good for me to stretch my reading wings to a region unfamiliar to me. To learn of landscape, sea life, culture, food, peoples and more in a focused time period, primarily 1960-1970.

The book broadens to include a mystery—the death of a well-known young man from the coastal town of Barkley Cove. Even the name of that community sounds foreign to my Minnesota ears. His life intertwines with Kya’s and that’s what left me wanting to stay up late reading.

Themes of abuse, abandonment, isolation, misconceptions, meanness, prejudice, privilege and small town narrow-mindedness thread through the pages of Where the Crawdads Sing. Love, too.

Author Delia Owens also weaves poetry into pages in poems quoted. Poems by Emily Dickinson. By Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Wright, who taught in Minnesota at the University of Minnesota and Maclester College. By Amanda Hamilton (there’s a surprise). A fisherman named Scupper proclaims his love of poetry, declaring that poems “make ya feel something.” He’s right.

I encourage you to read this book for the story, the strong sense of place and, yes, for the poetry.

TELL ME: Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? If yes, what are your thoughts and will you see the movie?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


13 Responses to “The poetry of “Where the Crawdads Sing””

  1. beth Says:

    Looking forward to reading this!

  2. I read this one 3 years ago, I think, for book club and really enjoyed it. It was a little slow for me in the beginning, as I recall, but then it picked up. The story is engaging with just enough mystery to keep the reader engaged. I may see the movie because I do like to compare how the movie and book differ but of course— the book versions are almost always better.


    I’m surprised I’ve never shared with you what a great book this is! We read it in book club before Covid and I’ve shared my copy with so many others. I agree, movies often disappoint. But I find it interesting to see the differences between the book and movie. When reading, the words allow my imagination to work. With a movie, someone else’s interpretation is ‘in my face.’

    • Glad you enjoyed this book, too. It was by chance that I discovered it. I agree that, when reading, our imaginations “picture” the scene. And often, in a movie, that varies vastly from our perspectives, thus the disappointment.

  4. Valerie Says:

    I have read this book a couple years ago, and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know it was made into a movie. I’d like to see it sometime. Thanks.

  5. Jane Larson Says:

    Nice book pick. I read it about two years ago and loved it as well. Because it’s Poetry Month and because the book (and you) mentioned James Wright, check out my favorite poem, “A Blessing.” If you’re a fan of poetry, you might know that the friend he mentions in his poem is Robert Bly (another MN poet).

  6. I haven’t read the book but I will have to add it to my never ending reading list.

    • “Never-ending reading list” sounds familiar. I always leave the library with a pile of books. When I checked out a stack the other day, I told the young man behind the counter, “I’m so thankful for a library.” What he didn’t know is that I grew up without access to a library.

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