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Being a Reckless, Glorious, Girl, a guest post by Ellen Hagan


It is March 2021. I am combing through my old journals – the ones that start in the fall of 1993 when I was fourteen years old and well on my way to being wild and more than a little bit reckless. I take a few down from the shelves and brace myself, because I remember who I was back then. 8th Grade Sucks one of the pages says, colored in with lime green and magenta crayons. I would almost believe it, if the page after wasn’t covered in Doritos dust and a series of: hahahahah’s, stick figure drawings and looped, lyrical script that tells me otherwise. Middle school was a constant back and forth of ache and junk food, rowdy laughter and doubled over in tears. I see it in every entry – a manic holding on of experiences, of heartbreak, new love and that first moment of freedom – when you realize you are your own person – wholly removed from your family. You have all the time in the world to become who you want to be, and to make all the mistakes and missteps along the way. I was just at the beginning of that road, just barely on the verge. I am both exhilarated and horrified, keep opening and closing each book. It is there in those early pages that I was becoming a documentarian, an artist – just at the start of writing it all down and crafting a life around me. I was building a roadmap – figuring out how to study the world, watch it close and take notes.

Poetry and lyrics spoke to me early. Growing up in Bardstown, Kentucky in the late 80’s and 90’s made me full of angst and fire. Energy and electricity. My mix tapes were loaded with Salt n’ Peppa, TLC, Shania Twain, Paula Abdul and Hole – a combination of hip-hop, country and grunge. I was complicated and scrambling to figure out who I was, how to fit in and how to carry the words that were looping through my mind. I wrote down the lines of my favorite songs and studied the way words could carry heart and meaning. My first poems were imitations and anthems – were trying to match the emotions of my favorite music. My freshman year, I found a book called: The Moon is Always Female by Marge Piercy. It was my first poetry collection and I dog eared almost every poem. All of them full of longing and wild, reckless women. I could suddenly see myself in those poems. See the way she wrote about the body, politics, the world around her. I wanted to make change with words – see if the poems could lift, sing, shake and move in my hands – trying to navigate my way at every turn.

I was seventeen years old when I made it into the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. It was a three-week summer program for artists around the state. Kelly Norman Ellis was my teacher that summer, and she transformed everything for me. An Affrilachian Poet (from the Affrilachian Poets – a group of writers of color living in the Appalachian region) who was raised in Mississippi, she taught me to love the South, where I come from and who I am. Showed me how to love all of my complicated and out of control ways. Be tender with myself. Offered up all the ways to honor the rolling hills, my Middle-Eastern roots, the size of my nose, my still changing body. How to love the drawl of the words: mamaw and papaw and y’all. Taught me to love my country roots and the sizzle of cornbread in the cast iron skillet. How to use words to ask questions, push back, organize, rally, rage, resist and most of all, love. I think so much about the mentors and teachers who helped me maneuver my way – to see the best path ahead and figure out how to get on it. Always thinking of the people who held me up, constantly trying to be like the artists I met in Kentucky – who held that land and those stories so close.

When I say poetry saved me, I do not mean it lightly. I mean that it became a salve for me. A way to look back and reflect on who I was – a way to grapple with my own identity and who I wanted to be. Poetry is a forever pin on the roadmap of my life. Dropping down on every moment and memory. A way to hold onto my first kiss on the dunes of the Jersey shore, car rides through the winding roads of the Bluegrass with the music turned up all the way and the windows down – wind rushing past me. Poems about moving to New York City and climbing the 65 steps to my first walk-up apartment in the East Village. They are legacy and ancestry. They hold my whole history and tell the stories to my daughters. We are documenting our lives in words. Holding them close.

When I am teaching young people how to see the world in poetry, I am asking them to love themselves. Their languages, traditions, their ancestry. Asking them to look to the brilliant poets around them: Aracelis Girmay, Vincent Toro, Cynthia Dewi Oka, Renée Watson, Elizabeth Acevedo – asking them to find the voices that speak to them. Hoping they will be tender with themselves and their families. Gather stories and histories. Honor who they are and where they come from – even if that is sometimes hard to hold. When we write poems, we can be vulnerable, soft, kind to our memories. And we can also be fiery and ferocious. Speak loud and unapologetic. We can be that mix tape, we can be that journal covered in anger and hearts drawn in red magic marker. We can make our own maps – become the journey. We can be our full, whole selves. That’s what poetry has always meant to me – has always done for me.

Meet the author

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the co-author with Renée Watson of Watch Us Rise. Her poetry collections include Hemisphere and Crowned. Her work can be found in ESPN Magazine, She Walks in Beauty, and Southern Sin. Ellen is the Director of the Poetry & Theatre Departments at the DreamYard Project and directs their International Poetry Exchange Program with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. She co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. Raised in Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her family. www.ellenhagan.com | @ellenhagan | http://www.ellenhagan.com/blog

About Reckless, Glorious, Girl

(See Amanda’s review here.)

The co-author of Watch Us Rise pens a novel in verse about all the good and bad that comes with middle school, growing up girl, and the strength of family that gets you through it.

Beatrice Miller may have a granny’s name (her granny’s, to be more specific), but she adores her Mamaw and her mom, who give her every bit of wisdom and love they have. But the summer before seventh grade, Bea wants more than she has, aches for what she can’t have, and wonders what the future will bring. 

This novel in verse follows Beatrice through the ups and downs of friendships, puberty, and identity as she asks: Who am I? Who will I become? And will my outside ever match the way I feel on the inside?

A gorgeous, inter-generational story of Southern women and a girl’s path blossoming into her sense of self, Reckless, Glorious, Girl explores the important questions we all ask as we race toward growing up.

ISBN-13: 9781547604609
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 11 Years


  1. Tracy Hoggard says

    You are so the inspiration for the girls like me! love your thoughts

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