Holly Thompson Poetry!

On her website, Holly Thompson welcomes visitors to her “intercultural world.” Being intercultural is certainly something Thompson is familiar with. A native of New England, Thompson has resided in Japan for the past eighteen years, and Japan has been a large influence in her writing. Her first verse novel, Orchards, is set in Japan. It tells the story of Kana, a half-Japanese American teenager who is sent to stay with her relatives in Japan after a classmate commits suicide. Thompson recounts Kana’s story with reflective, evocative verse, which no doubt led Orchards to win an APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature. Thompson also acted as editor for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, a fiction anthology compiled in support of Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011. (YARN published an excerpt from Tomo written by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga back in February 2012.) Thompson’s latest verse novel The Language Inside was released last May and was selected for YALSA’s 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

YARN is so excited to have Thompson ring in our National Poetry Month festivities with these THREE original poems.


The Clearing

Image © Chad Cooper (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chadcooperphotos/8351564081/)

Image © Chad Cooper (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chadcooperphotos/8351564081/)

it had seemed romantic
to steal a wooden canoe
and cross the channel to an island
in the dark against the tide but
as waves washed over gunwales
in gusting wind not accounted for
she swore she’d never take
such foolish risk again

the island was uninhabited
save a gravestone in a small clearing
where he’d set up a tent
during earlier reconnaissance
and where they lay unsleeping
as spruce limbs knocked
broke off and clacked branch
to branch all around them

rising not early enough
they paddled back to shore
exposed in broad daylight
to return the borrowed boat

no longer enamored
of the dark
the island
the idea
it was the first time for her to know
she would have to doubt him
trust her own instincts
keep wary
if they were to stay


it starts with a spot
the size of a letter
that travels
word to word
with your gaze

   ust   ike   his

Image © Kaptain Kobold (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaptainkobold/6925394423/)

Image © Kaptain Kobold (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaptainkobold/6925394423/)

and seems at first
like the spot
after a camera flash
or headlight
but grows
to half a word
then half a page

and when
to confirm your state
you glance at a face
that, too
is halved

and if you look
from face to face
there is a crowd of halves
a mutant one-eyed species
each individual having lost
the same side of their body

which is
the exact opposite side of
the side of your body
growing Novocain numb
and tingly

the room gets sliced in half
the trees outside
the entire sky

one side day
one side darker
than night


she agrees to serve the food
and bus her tables just
like the other waitresses
and as far as she knows
he has agreed to cook the food
with the prep chef’s help
and when a dish is ready
set it on the warming counter

that is all

but when the words flung at her back
as she fills her tray and turns to heft
it to her shoulder and step
through the swinging doors
to the dining room

refer to her breasts
and ass
and the way
she swings her hips

Image © Mike Gifford (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mgifford/4675215494/)

Image © Mike Gifford (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mgifford/4675215494/)

she asks the manager
for an agreement
about the kinds of words
he can say

but he sweet-talks
the manager
who thinks the girl
is just an uppity kid
and it is the girl
who is rebuked

she follows the agreement
to serve the sandwiches
and cordon bleu
and lobster bisque
but when his words
start talking about
what he will do to her
breasts and ass and hips

she takes another waitress
with her to see the manager
who, stirring a drink
looks at them with palpable
disdain and says
I don’t have to listen to you

which is when they plan
the walkout

afterward when all the waitresses
gather one last time in a parking lot
for hugs and solidarity before dispersing
to cobble together other jobs
they still feel that somehow they lost
that girls somehow always lose

and this is confirmed
when she is picked up by her mother
who stabs a blaming finger at her and says
what on earth did you do?

Holly Thompson CIMG4337Holly Thompson (www.hatbooks.com) is the author of two YA verse novels: “The Language Inside” (2013) and “Orchards” (2011), winner of the APALA Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, both published by Random House. Her forthcoming middle grade verse novel “Dragon’s Mouth” will be published by Henry Holt. Raised in Massachusetts but a longtime resident of Japan, she edited “Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories” (2012). A graduate of the N.Y.U. Creative Writing Program, she writes poetry and fiction for children, teens and adults, teaches creative writing, and serves as regional advisor for SCBWI Japan.

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