Chestnut Hill Academy teacher wins poetry award

A Chestnut Hill Academy Middle School English teacher has won an award given to rising African-American poets.

Iain Haley Pollock won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for “Spit Back a Boy” – a collection that explores Haley’s bi-racial identity.

The collection – Haley’s first – will be published this spring by the University of Georgia Press.

The child of a black woman and white man, Haley said people generally think he’s white.

“Sort of being neither here nor there had been difficult for me as a boy, and it’s the emotional content that I’m still working through,” Haley said.

“My mother raised me as a black,” he said.

And as an adult, Haley said, he grew dreadlocks as a way of expressing his African-American heritage.

In his work, Haley said, he explores the decision that bi-racial people make about whether to express themselves as “black.”

But Haley said he hopes his poetry speaks to everyone, because all people struggle with issues related to their identity.

“I hope this helps people with their own struggles with who they are,” Haley said.

 

AFFECTION

 

by Iain Haley Pollock

 

One Friday a month, my father pulled clippers—

Wahls—from a worn shoebox to tighten

my fade before the school dance. The cut

was accomplished with an economy of words

and movement:

I’d sit quietly under his hand,

listening to the electric hum of the Wahls

while his precise strokes sent flurries of curls

to the bathroom floor, and his light touch

on my chin rotated the angle of my head

left or right, up or down.

When he bent the tops

of my ears flat to shave behind them, I’d start

scraping fingernails against my thighs, the full power

of gravity keeping me in the red folding chair

until a grum How’s it look? and I’d shoot up

to preen for the mirror and inspect.

Once satisfied,

I’d stamped up to my room to dress for the night

while downstairs my father swept four week’s worth

of hair from the floor tiles, the whisk of the corn broom

over linoleum sounding softly as the cradle song

that a child heavy with sleep only half hears.

 

This poem originally appear in Crab Orchard Review.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.