Harpy Is Just a Word with the Poetry Princesses [Poetry Friday]

This is terrible. Two months in a row, I am setting this post up just days before, and I haven’t yet written my poem. With our house on the market, a daughter in the ER three times in one week, a week of Young Authors Conferences, and two book deadlines, I’ve dropped the ball. Many balls, in fact. But, I am just going to own up and admit I’ve done a really sucky job this past couple of months. I will aim for better in July.

Thursday morning (I am so NOT a procrastinator, usually), I wrote something for this image.

The Harpy Celaeno, by Mary Pownall - Photo: Tanita S. Davis
The Harpy Celaeno, by Mary Pownall — Photo: Tanita S. Davis

A teacher whom I’m skying with Friday morning told me her students were writing wordplay poems (I shared a lesson plan about those last year, based on an activity by Nikki Grimes), so that was in my mind as I sat at Taco Bell, eating my bacon taco and Cinnabon Delights, thinking about what to write. I really only used the wordplay approach in the first stanza. The harpy as a derogatory name for shrill women, the mythical role of harpies, and the harpy eagle (predator of sloths, monkeys, and more) all played into my draft.

Here is draft 2:

Harpy Is Just a Word

Harpy is a sharp word,
a winged word,
with a high alabaster H stabbing the sky
and talons trawling below
ready to grip the slippery sloth
that wriggles,
caught in her net of drama

Harpy is a musical word
Play, but
pluck it lightly and
point it away from others
It’s an instrument of insults,
eerie shrieks and thrashing trees
and monkeys who
disappear silently
beneath its dirge of claws

Harpy is a shrill word
with musical strings frozen inside
A cold marble cry
of “Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?”

–Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

Now, please don’t miss the awesome poems of my sisters:



And here are the previous Poetry Sisters collaborations:

May 2016 Tritina
Apr 2016 “Channel-Hopping Through Grasshopper Reality TV”
Mar 2016 Sedoka
Feb 2016 Poem Inspired by a Picasso Sculpture (ugh)
Jan 2016 Crown sonnet (on the periodic table)
Nov 2015 Ekphrastic poems
Oct 2015 Etherees
Sep 2015 Found poems
Aug 2015 Classified haiku
Jul 2015 Inspired by e.e. cummings’ poems
Jun 2015 Odes
May 2015
Apr 2015 Raccontinos
Mar 2015 Sestinas (Lord have mercy)
Feb 2015 Villanelles on hidden things
Jan 2015 Triolets on beginnings (And I posted an extra one here.)
Pre-2015 Villanelles, a crown sonnet, rondeau redoubles, and pantoums

For more poetry fun, don’t miss the Poetry Friday Roundup, hosted this week by poet and media specialist Jone MacCulloch at Check It Out!




32 Responses

  1. I love the way your opening swoops down and grabs the reader (heh, heh) But seriously, this opening is just.….glorious:
    “Harpy is a sharp word,
    a winged word,
    with a high alabaster H stabbing the sky
    and talons trawling below”

    And then to bring it round to your ending cry.…nicely done. Your procrastination doesn’t show a bit. Must be those bacon tacos.…

    1. Thank you, Sara. The more I look at the poem, the more I think it should be just that first stanza. Nah, the bacon tacos are just so I get some protein. The Cinnabon Delights–THOSE are the food of the gods.

  2. I’ve had the practice of word play work for me a few times. It works here. Love the “alabaster H”. I hope your daughter is doing better. Around here in deep Catholic country they bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard upside down to sell a house. You might try it. My husband tells me they sell kits.

    1. Thanks, Margaret–I love the wordplay process. Thanks for the good thoughts, and I may have to go get a St. Joseph. Nothing else is working, that’s for sure!

  3. That list of all of our collaborations just BLOWS ME AWAY, Laura. It really does.… And so does your wordplay that is so visceral, right from the start, but then ends so powerfully and unexpectedly. It doesn’t feel last minute, my friend. It feels right on time.

    1. Aw, thank you, Liz. I KNOW! We’re getting quite a list there, aren’t we?

  4. I love the different ways you explore the word. Great imagery and fun world play.

  5. Oooh, harpy eagles!! I always forget them. They’re so… crazyfierce looking, too. Had no idea they ate monkeys, but that makes sense; they look like they’d eat people, if they didn’t get so big.

    This is all jagged and spiky and delightfully “right,” right up ’til the end, when you kick our legs out from beneath us… and now we feel a bit sorry for the harpy and its frozen emotions. Which is so confusing, in the best of ways!

    1. Thanks, Tanita. It’s so funny because I have a harpy eagle poem in my 30 Painless Classroom Poems indie-published series, but I didn’t know they were named after mythical harpies. So they of course invaded the poem!

  6. Clearly Taco Bell is a poem-writing destination that works. LOL I must try it one day. Great stuff in that poem, whether you decide to tinker with it or not. Best wishes for no more hospital visits anytime soon. I hope she’s okay. And good luck with your house, your conference, and life in general. Best, Brenda

    1. I highly recommend Taco Bell:>) Thanks for all the good thoughts, Brenda!

      1. It got me think about Harp-playing angels, harps at the gate and Harpies in trees. I imagine a poem is brewing there, but now I just need a Taco Bell. 😉

  7. Nicely done, Laura! I love how you’ve woven the many different uses of the word into a poem that really flows. Hope all is well with your daughter, and good luck with the house and all those other balls you’ve got going!

  8. Wow Laura — it sounds like you have an awful lot on your plate at the moment. Hugs to you as you navigate all that busyness.
    I love this poem, and especially the contrasts created by the opening lines of the three stanzas — moving from sharp to musical to shrill.

    1. Thanks, Sally! I’m trying to figure out if the movement is too scattered…so good to have feedback:>)

  9. I like how you focused on the word and kind of left that disturbing boob-clutch out of it (or made it into a sloth-snag).

    And, oh my. Sending you calming days ahead when deadlines can be met and health can be had. BREATHE!

  10. Laura, first of all breathe and feel the calm before you have to get back into the storm of life. Second, this poem screams of daring with word play in full action. There is intrigue: net of drama, instrument of insults, frozen inside. I will definitely check out the sister poems. Can’e wait to present with you in Boston! Yeah. We will have fun!

  11. I say, “WOW!” to your last-minute poem. I love it! I loved this exercise when Michelle featured Nikki on her blog. I’ve written three wordplay poems that I love because of that exercise. It makes us take time to explore all aspects of a word which makes for some great language. Nice job!

    1. Aren’t those wordplay poems fun to write! Congrats on your three! I’d like to do more, too.

  12. This was a fabulous play on the word harpy, and what a great image, the talons trawling below…the screech of why. Powerful, sharp, wild. I like it!

  13. I had no idea Taco Bell served breakfast! I do like to write early in the morning, but I’m usually curled up in a chair with a cup of tea. I’m not sure I’d write well in public, as I’m a people watcher and would probably be too distracted.

    I too was a procrastinator this month, so you are in good company. In fact, I think we all waited until the last minute.

    I really love that you looked at harpy in so many ways, and looked at how the word appears and is used in other contexts. I love the middle stanza, but like others, I adore the “cold, marble cry” at the end.

    1. Thank you, Tricia! My Taco Bell is empty in the morning, except for the bad music:>) Yeah, I didn’t feel too bad since we ALL ended up procrastinating. I hate procrastinating, though. Shudder.

  14. My goodness, but I LOVE this poem. And there’s nothing about it that feels last-minute. So much goodness here, from the wings and talons of the H to the haunting cry at the end.

    1. Thanks, Kelly. I do love the wordplay exercise to get writing juices flowing!

  15. Love what you’ve done in this poem (despite the horrid looking sculpture), Laura! Sending you peaceful, calm, and creative vibes going forward. =)

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