SMART LIKE ME
They put me right near
the maternity ward.
they want me to see
what I’ve missed in my life but
The women in there all think they’re
they’re not sixteen.
The women in there
have been praying for years
for what I
just threw away.
What would he have been?
Crazy like him.
Smart like me.
-- Penelope Jane Reid
In 1968, Dick Lourie proposed to the other Hanging Loose editors (Emmett Jarrett, Ron Schreiber, me) that we start a regular section in the magazine devoted to writing by high school students.
I thought it was a terrible idea. I don’t want to read a lot of third-rate imitations of rock lyrics and adolescent moaning about lost love, I said. Let them publish in their school magazines.
Luckily, I lost the argument and, right from the beginning, we began to receive amazing work from young poets all over the country (along with the expected romantic laments.) I don’t know how they found us in those pre-Internet days when the few hundred copies we printed rarely traveled west of the Hudson, but find us they did and the poems and stories have kept coming now for forty-two years. At a rough guess, I’d say we’ve published work by over 600 high school writers.
In the late eighties, we decided to collect a lot of the pieces in an anthology. The news didn’t thrill everybody. A major funder sniffed: “I can’t imagine why you think we’d have any interest in supporting work by high school students.” Hmmm: We went ahead without anybody’s support and, happily, that first collection got rave reviews. Two others have followed and a fourth, When We Were Countries, (with Mark Pawlak as lead editor), will be published this spring.
Penelope Jane Reid’s “Smart Like Me” appeared in HL #41, in 1981, one of three we ran. Looking back at it now, it still seems to me a marvel of concision, all the more powerful for its tight lines and lack of embellishment. We never saw any other poems from her. She was a student at J.M. Atherton High School in Louisville, Kentucky when #41 came out. The last we heard, for the anthology’s contributor notes in 1988, she’d gotten a degree in journalism from Indiana University.
The high school section has produced a few poetry lifers –
Joanna Fuhrman and Rebecca Wolff come to mind – but most of the young writers
wander off to other pursuits. Penelope
Reid would be in her late forties now. I
hope she’s had a sparkling journalistic career and maybe, just maybe, the
occasional itch to scribble down a terrific poem.
-- Robert Hershon
Poems by high school students appearing in Hanging Loose have been selected for The Best American Poetry on several occasions. Jorie Graham chose a poem by Jendi Reiter for BAP 1990; Adrienne Rich chose two poems by Natasha Le Bel and one by Deborah Stein for the 1996 volume; Marc Jaffee's "King of Repetition" was picked by Lyn Hejinian for the 2004 edition. I'm trusting my memory here, and there's a chance I'm leaving out somebody. But you get the idea: Hershon and his coeditors have a great eye for young talent. -- DL