In a poem called “Around the Yellow House,” Zan Hailey describes how a pickup truck, a barking dog, a squirrel and planes streaking across the clouds herald the arrival of a letter from her partner.
In a poem called “300 Cigarettes,” Robert Scott pokes fun at turning 40 and wonders whether he measures up to people such as Henry V, who conquered France before he reached that age.
The county’s Arts Council recently named Scott, a 46-year-old English teacher at Osbourn Park High School, and Hailey, a 22-year-old English major at Virginia Commonwealth University, Prince William County’s poets laureate.
“I was in awe,” said Hailey, who grew up in Manassas. “I didn’t expect to win. I’m 22 and I’ve been writing for 14 years — I figured someone who had been writing longer would have beat me out.”
The laureate positions, which Scott and Hailey will hold for two years, were approved this year. The appointments are the first of their kind for the county.
“I was thrilled to have Prince William County actively open doors for me,” Scott said. “I’m not an anomaly,” the published novelist added. “There’s nothing special about me. If you’re willing to work at it, you can write, too.”
The laureate program was the brainchild of 69-year-old June Forte, a member of Write by the Rails, Prince William’s chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The program is sponsored by the Clearbrook Foundation, an area nonprofit group. Each poet will receive $500 each year to bring their plans to fruition.
Forte thinks there’s a math and science bias in the world that must be tempered by the arts. “It’s the writer who helps the average person understand the complex nature of what’s going on in our society,” she said. “And the poet speaks to the hearts and feelings of people.”
Both poets think that anyone can be a writer. To prove it, Scott plans to collect 10,000 poems from county residents during his two years as poet laureate.
“I want the guy who cuts your grass and the woman who cleans hotel rooms, and the people standing in line at the DMV or the grocery line,” he said. “I want to say to them, ‘Here’s a Web site, become part of this community.’ ”
“I’d love to get poetry into every wrinkle and corner in Prince William County,” he added, “and encourage people who don’t think they’re writers to pick up a pen and go.”
Hailey, too, hopes to help county residents find their artistic voices.
She plans to use ekphrasis — written descriptions of visual art. And she hopes people will begin by creating their own artwork. Hailey wants them to make visual art and then write prose to “ekphrastisize” what they have made.
“I want them to feel the meditative outcome of crossing barriers in art,” said Hailey, whose mother is a creative writing teacher and whose father is a retired art teacher. “Normally writers don’t really do [visual] art. A lot of writers will say, ‘Oh no, I can’t draw.’ I want them to push themselves and to try and use that invigorating feeling of creating something to create more.”
Both poets said they hope to display their projects somewhere in the county.