A National Poetry Month Guessing Game

April is National Poetry Month and as it happens, the book I’m reading at the CNIB right now is a novel written in poems, and so is the book I’ll be reading next. The stories in both are told from the points of view of different characters, so it’s been fun trying to match my voice to the different girls who were accusers during the Salem witch hunts, and I’m looking forward to capturing the voices of Natalie and Tricia and the English teacher and guidance counsellor at their high school. (A male narrator will be reading the Kyle and Miguel parts. It’s a bit like working on Ragged Company was in that way, but less complicated because we won’t be overlapping at the studio for any of the work this time.)101 Ways to Dance

One of the reasons that the obvious appeal of Wicked Girls and Fishtailing interests me – both books have attracted great reviews and one a GG Award – is that I’ve written a little poetry myself, and in fact some of the pieces in 101 Ways to Dance were actually poems when the collection was accepted for publication. But the publisher practically pleaded with me to not insist on including the poems. Not that she didn’t like the poems, she did, but “Short stories can be a hard enough sell,” she said, “without including poetry!”

Well, I wanted the book to sell, so I rewrote the poems as prose. Here’s how one of the poems started:

paint on our jeans and in our hair

me and the new guy from bc

the other painters have gone home

wet optical illusion

a vase or two faces

on the wall of the church basement


he’s tall dark

not handsome

too small a mouth

receding hairline

but something

marianne says he has a kid

in vancouver and got a letter last week

from regina dear bram you’re going to be a daddy

my mother would say

being alone with a boy like bram is

asking for it

ever played chicken bram asks

i don’t drive

i don’t mean in a car

oh like on railroad tracks

where you have to stay on while the train comes

and whoever jumps off first is chicken

he shakes his head

what then


facing each other cross-legged

his lips aren’t that small

put your finger


his forehead

i do

and pull away

no you leave it there

what if i’m too chicken

then the game’s over

what game

he puts my finger back on his forehead

and i let him explain

move your finger


as slowly as

you want

till somebody says


they’re the chicken


what am i doing here

me no one suspects of having even

thoughts of

bram’s hands

those lips

where his jeans ride . . .

Maybe the story is actually better in prose, I don’t know. But I wonder: Told that four stories in 101 Ways to Dance were originally poems, would a reader be able to guess which are the four? If you’ve read the collection (which btw was shortlisted for the CLA YA Book of the Year and was listed as one of OLA’s Ten Best YA Books of 2006), I’d love it if you’d send me your guesses.

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Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.

Kathy Stinson

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