Friday, August 5, 2011

p*tag you're it

After the rounds of poetry tag played at my Honesdale Highlights workshop, I didn't think a tag game would ever be quite so exciting again.  But I was wrong:  I have been invited to participate in the second poetry tag project coordinated by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, champions for the dissemination of poetry for young people.  Titled p*tag (you can play along here), it's the "first electronic-only anthology for teens" and will be illustrated with photos taken by Sylvia herself. 

Even as I write I'm in the midst of the challenge:  I have just been tagged by Stephanie Hemphill, an accomplished verse novelist.  My mission is to a) immerse myself in a photo I selected from Sylvia's intriguing gallery, b) select three words from Stephanie's fine poem, and c) compose my own poem inspired by the photo using Stephanie's three words and an as-yet-undetermined number of my own.  I have 24 hours in which to do this, and to write a piece that describes my process and how the resulting poem is linked to the photo and to Stephanie's.  

Then I get to tag another of the 31 poets who are participating (with respect for who's on vacation this weekend and who's working!).  The project will all be complete and available for download at an irresistible price by October. How cool IS this?  I just hope I can pull off something worthy of the concept and of the first Poetry Tag Time volume, which was e-published in April.

So, back to Stephanie Hemphill.  Her latest book is Wicked Girls, which I confess I thought might be another girls-telling-lies-and-being-mean-to-each-other-book despite its subtitle: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials.  I took up HarperTeen's offer to "browse inside" and found myself reading way past my bedtime with fascination and admiration.  Here's a selection called "Caught."

Margaret Walcott, 17

Past the crooked evergreen
and the brook what lost its water,
on my way home from playing
games on who'll make me husband,
I cross Ipswich Road.
I rub my eyes.  His two blue ones
be looking straight on me.

My pulse starts to gallop
like a steed.  But today I trip not.
I track on up to him and say,
"Be you following me?"

His arms be thick enough
to lift the axe of three men.
Isaac's laughter shakes
through him so fierce
it scatters the snow off his boots.
"Yea, Margaret Walcott,
betwixt tending the stables,
staking out the fields
and bringing wares to town,
I be scouting all the time after you."
He raises one brow.
"But where hast thou been?"

The color splashes over me,
drenching me red.  I hold up my buckets.
"Fetching water," I say.

"Thou are far from any stream
I know of," Isaac says,
and shakes his head.
His eyes catch on me
like he be holding lightly
my face with his hand.

"I must then be lost," I say,
and I pick up my bucket
and my skirts and trot off.
And do so quite a bit like a lady.

~ Stephanie Hemphill
from Wicked Girls, Harper 2011

Apart from the draw of the story itself, of the girl accusers of Salem's alleged witches, I am completely fascinated by the sound of American English at this early, early stage of our history--the syntax, the grammar, and not least the voices of these girls who find themselves, unlike most girls of the era, known in history rather than anonymous.

Check out what other worlds folks are dreaming today at A Year of Literacy Coaching with Libby.  Happy Poetry Friday, and look out for p*tag!


  1. This poem does have a distinct voice. It would be great to be read aloud. Thank you for sharing this and good luck on the p*tag.

  2. This sounds like fun! I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with!

  3. I'll be participating with you Heidi! I was tagged by Sara Holbrook. Can't wait to read what you come up with! Also I'll be attending the Highlights workshop under Rebecca Kai Dotlich a week from today! Miss ya!!!!


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