CNF: Private School

by Meg Eden


In eighth grade, Kevin Hannigan pointed at each person in the class and said, “May you be anathema!” We weren’t allowed damn and shit and hell, but none of the teachers complained about his application of systematic theology in conversation. At lunch, he’d ask to sit with the teachers, but even they found better things to do, their excuses thin and wafer-like. The rest of us learned how to look out the window when he asked us questions, an art I never fully mastered. The teachers would always pair me up with him, thinking I was kinder than the rest.  But I wasn’t. I was only quieter. I don’t want to say it was because he was Catholic in a Protestant school—it wasn’t. As much as Anna argued for Calvinism at recess, the rest of us were just trying to pass. We wanted to survive. A year later, half of us went to public schools, where our best friends damned us on the bus and on the way to class, and we were supposed to be the light that shined without earthly reason, without reward. 


Meg Eden teaches creative writing at colleges and writing centers. She is the author of the 2021 Towson Prize for Literature winning poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” and children’s novels including a 2024 ALA Schneider Family Book Award Honor “Good Different,” and the forthcoming “The Girl in the Wall” (Scholastic, 2025). Find her online at megedenbooks.com.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Private School”?

I start writing in what I know, mining my memories and experiences. I think as someone who believes in heaven and hell, the transition from private school to public school came as a particular shock in how casually we use phrases like damn in American culture. But as I mined my memories, I remembered a kid who sort of got around this by using anathema instead. So these worlds that I thought were so different were maybe not as different as I thought. There’s an ironic humor to this, but also it struck me with a challenge. Thinking about the way scripture challenges believers to be “lights” in the world, not conforming but transforming the world around us by choosing what is good, writing this poem made me wonder: am I really living a good different kind of life? Am I choosing radical love and joy, or am I choosing to imitate and be safe?


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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now closed. The reading period for standard submissions opens again March 15, 2023. Submit here.


07/08 • Meg Eden
07/15 • Tim Raymond
07/22 • Mike Itaya
07/29 • Eric Steineger
08/05 • Baylee Less-Eiseman
08/12 • Rae Gourmand
08/19 • Chiwenite Onyekwelu
08/26 • John Arthur
09/02 • TBD
09/09 • TBD
09/16 • TBD
09/23 • TBD
09/30 • TBD