Being in Jim Connolly’s creative writing classes for two years has “completely changed my viewpoint on the art of creative writing,” says Chloe Cole (I). Chloe’s talent and focus recently earned her a silver medal in the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poem “Pregnant.”
“I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I love discussing what I’ve read,” says Chloe. “I had always done a lot of writing on my own, but taking this class changed my approach to how I write, and how to read someone else’s work. This class sparks a lot of questions about art in general. We’ve asked in class, ‘What’s the point of art?’— a question we haven’t been able to answer yet. We had a conversation the other day about whether good art can have a happy ending; so much of what teenagers write is angst-ridden, so this made for a great discussion.”
Mr. Connolly’s class, which helps students to shape their ideas, observations and memories into works of fiction and poetry, depends largely on students “work shopping” each others’ writing. Work shopping peers’ writing is the hallmark of creative writing at Milton; it helps students appreciate the genre and become better writers themselves. “The students take it very seriously,” says Chloe. “We approach each others’ work as if it’s professional writing, which legitimizes the writing we do in the class. And Mr. Connolly is so encouraging—he tells us to be ambitious in our writing. He’s never condescending in his instruction; he never says to us, ‘Oh, just write about what you know.’ He pushes us to go outside of ourselves.”
In Chloe’s poem “Pregnant” she goes outside of herself, incorporating a commentary on the world. “The poem is about the current culture [of relationships],” says Chloe. “It’s written from the perspective of a girl who sees all these other girls around her moving from guy to guy, engaging in this self-destructive behavior, and watches them lose their sense of self-worth in the process. The girl in the poem ultimately wonders what kind of mothers these girls are going to become. This poem’s perspective was interesting to me, because rarely do my friends and I talk about the idea of being mothers; we typically talk about becoming career women. The poem reveals this girl’s fear of being the only mother in the world.”
Writing serves a practical role for Chloe: “Last year, during the stress of the college process, I relied on my writing as an emotional outlet. When my mom can see that I’m stressed out or in a bad mood she’ll say, ‘Go wrote a poem, Chloe.’ Those poems aren’t always good,” Chloe laughs, “but they definitely help to relieve the stress.”
Literary staff editor of the Magus/Mabus [Milton’s student literary magazine], Chloe plans to continue writing at Northwestern University next fall, where she’ll major in drama, studying English, creative writing and theater. “Writing will be part of my profession. I’m not sure how I’ll use it exactly, but I would love to write for a good television show or a magazine, or have my own humor column. The regional and national [creative writing] awards that Milton students win are amazing because they let us know that we are not only strong writers amongst each other, but that we can compete with other students across the country. That definitely helps build confidence and strength in our work.” Earlier this year, Chloe’s classmates Caroline Lester (I) and Michael Bartley (I) earned merit recognition from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts for their short stories and poetry, respectively.
Below is Chloe’s award-winning poem.
Laura told me she could never be a mother,
could never love anything more than money.
I lie, lie and lie with these girls.
Their shame swells my stomach.
They cannot remember where they spent the night,
when their tights tear,
and who held them. My nights
I buoy through dreams where I am the only mother,
yelling instructions on how to change a diaper,
baby powder clotting my saliva,
pushing a cart in the supermarket,
collecting wailing babies from the shelves.
Waking is a heartbeat in my stomach,
sagging at the space beside my bed where a crib might rest:
All of my daughters have Laura’s mouth.