The next excerpt from my PYI keynote in a series that started in December 2011…
Up on Ipswich Road
a girl my age, not a servant,
boards with Doctor Griggs.
Uncle Ingersoll says
the girl’s so quiet you can hear
snowflakes falling ‘pon her cheek.
“Elizabeth,” I call
when I pass her on the road
back from Uncle’s tavern.
She spins her head,
searching for another with her name.
“Good to meet you,” I say.
“I’m Margaret Walcott.”
She clutches her parcel to her chest.
“Cold today,” I say, and she says nothing.
“How fare ye?” I ask her, but still
Elizabeth gives no response.
Is she mute, be she a simple girl?
I try once more. “Have you heard
what goes on at the Minister’s?”
She nods, opens her mouth,
but then covers it with her hand
as if she would be slapped for her speech.
I pull her hand away.
“Pray, be not feared to speak.
I shall be your friend, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth shifts her weight side and side.
I whisper, “There may be witches
in this village. Know ye about the craft?”
“’Tis Satan’s work,” she says.
Her eyes swell and ignite.
“I knew a witch hanged for her poppets
and spells. For the Bible says,
‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’
Exodus chapter twenty-two, verse eighteen.”
“Do tell me, friend, all ye know
and hear,” I say.
That’s “The Good Doctor’s Good Girl” from Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill. It’s a novel in free verse that I read aloud at the CNIB Recording Studio on Bayview this year, and it tells the story of what happened during the Salem witch trials in 1692, from the points of view of several girls who were among, not those accused of being witches, but the accusers.
For almost eight years now I have been a volunteer reader and technician, helping to produce audio books for CNIB’s visually impaired clients.
When I first told long-time CANSCAIP member and CNIB client Jean Little that I was going to audition as a reader, she said, “Well, they don’t take just anybody, you know.” And it’s true, they don’t. But whether or not you have the time or skills that the CNIB looks for, or the inclination to do this kind of volunteer work, if you’re a writer, reading aloud is something you ought to be doing on a regular basis, to an audience or in the privacy of your own room, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
Read your own work aloud, for sure, before exposing it to anyone else. It’s amazing the errors and awkward phrasings that will reveal themselves to you, passages that are too long-winded or too abrupt, dialogue that’s wooden – or possibly, quite brilliant.
Read the work of other authors aloud, too. By involving your mouth and your ear in your reading, you’ll absorb even more important lessons about how to write well than you will reading silently, even if you’re not conscious of what those lessons are.