After Amanda Gorman’s Chance To Shine, A New Group Of Young Poets Follow In Her Footsteps
The nation’s first youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, became a household name after her fiery performance at President Biden’s inauguration.
Now, four teenage poets are in the running for the title of this year’s National Youth Poet Laureate.
The winner will be announced Thursday night and will be streamed in partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The laureate is chosen based on their commitment to artistic excellence, civic engagement and social justice.
Here & Now reached out to the finalists to learn more about their work and how they use poetry as a tool for expression.
Alexandra Huynh, 18, Sacramento, California
Alexandra Huynh, a Vietnamese-American poet, says her introverted nature growing up left her with the space and time to craft poetry as “a way to process my emotions and share it with people in a way that felt very safe for me,” she says.
Using imagery, sound and even silence, the 18-year-old utilizes poetry as a vessel for unpacking her emotions.
“I feel that I’m able to show what’s happening on the inside of my head on the outside, so to speak,” she says.
“Life Cycle of a Catcall” by Alexandra Huynh
To be read from top to bottom. Repeat.
But because you view my body as invitation to comment,
I must now remember that I am a woman.
I stopped to be polite. First mistake—
if you really wanted to, you wouldn’t ask.
Now ask me what I want. No, really:
His words will decay in your chest, but you’ll survive the bloat.
That’s what scares me.
Today, I considered a steaming bowl of noodles, and imagined how,
in tipping it over like a chess piece in resignation, my mother
would mount the mess with towels and a practiced speed,
and I would watch, still; letting the hot liquid spill into my lap
until I felt clean. Who knows what might happen
if this body felt any less like mine?
Some lauded metaphors, probably. And an excavation of the self.
I am not nearly as brave as I sound in those
“im-so-sorry-he-made-u-uncomfy” texts I send all my girlfriends.
I’ve got flight instinct.
Maybe, this is my reckoning:
The one where my skin finally loosens from its frame,
conceding the nervous mess of flesh, as inky shame leaks
from every orifice. And every day, I abandon the body
so I may exist in spite of it.
Shirts hang from me like flags on unclaimed nation. And my hair
becomes freight in tow. I am a parade. I ___.
I am the object of the sentence,
so now everything happens to me,
and none of it is my fault,
Alora Young, 17, Nashville, Tennessee
Alora Young uses poetry as a form of journaling. But more recently, she has been using it often to explore her personal history and genealogy as a Black American.
The 17-year-old says she discovered the family that enslaved her family in West Tennessee and that the enslaver had two sons who fought against each other in the Battle of Fort Pillow.
Young says she doesn’t know how she would have been able to cope with that information if it wasn’t through poetry.
“Because in creating art out of something, it forces you to feel more than just the rage,” she says.
“On Kurdistan” by Alora Young
When you see that we have left you to die,
will your memory render us as an enemy?
We take the lies in stride
and avert our eyes from the massacre
The caliber of betrayal our country is making
feels like the fable of Cain and able
we made the same mistakes before
and still have the gall to say never again
these blood watered crops taste like that original sin.
Nobody ever wants to be on the wrong side of history
but we don’t listen to it’s rhymes
because modern men hate poetry
more than they hate war crimes.
The media hates to make a white face the enemy.
We let Russia rush in and look on as bystanders
handing our brothers in arms to isis commanders
we see the riches that are born from war
but we don’t count the bodies in the trenches anymore.
Like the ashes of the children we left in iraq,
Right now it looks like genocide is the new black.
Give me your tired sick your huddled masses
Hide our countries lies with mustard gasses
this country is a palace of misconceptions
the Constitution is adorned with slick deceptions
it’s no wonder we’re so calm
when it comes time to leave our friends for dead
Kurdistan was there for us
Now we let their streets run red.
You can’t bury history beneath a fig tree
it hunts you,and it haunts you and it begs you
to see the people beneath the “too dark for airports” skin.
But we’ll never call it genocide
because brown people are only 2/3 human.
Abraham didn’t fight for this
he spread love of a many named god
in a book that we re write for this
the rift between “us and them” is a savior
we re-packaged powder white in white hoods,
It’s how we recycle facist regimes like they’re plastic goods
I’m mad that we value turtles more than moors.
I’m mad that we fight each other to hide from bigger wars.
I’m mad that we have “us” and “them” and the centuries they span.
And all I have left is a prayer for Kurdistan.
Faye Harrison, 19, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When asked what they want people to know about them, 19-year-old Faye Harrison is candid about being an alcoholic and proud to be three years sober.
They are also a high school dropout and use poetry to help with healing.
“I feel like those are incredibly stigmatized identities and for me, I’ve used poetry a lot as a way to talk about those identities and to make it OK within myself,” Harrison says.
They say it was a scary thing when at age 16, they decided to get sober and poetry was a way for them to say there was nothing wrong with it.
“It’s a disease. Alcoholism and addiction, it’s a disease,” Harrison says.
“portrait of the alcoholic in home depot after kaveh akbar” by Faye Harrison
shift starts at 5am
watch the sunrise from inside a junction box
for the throne of clouds
above the aldi’s parking lot
tell my coworker
am a child of construction
to tear them apart again
understand the necessity of the wrecking ball
in my auntie’s deserted driveway
cracked foundation & rotten floorboards
roof’s sudden introduction to the basement
is a home
for a ghost
am alone when the pink walls peel from the living room
Serena Yang, 19, Queens, New York
Serena Yang has lived in Queens ever since her family immigrated from Singapore when she was in first grade.
The 19-year-old identifies as Chinese and Asian American but isn’t sure if she is interested in being American.
“I’m more so interested in being part of a political lineage of Asian Americans who are invested in the liberation of colonized peoples,” she says.
Yang says everything she knows about herself was first revealed through her poetry. She says privately she doesn’t feel like a poet, but more like someone who writes poetry.
She’s not sure if she will continue to use it as a tool for expression indefinitely.
“I want to move through the world with a lot of love for my people and that work may look like poetry right now, but it may not in the future,” she says.
“last night i dreamed of chinatown” by Serena Yang
last night i dreamed of chinatown:
grand street dried fish ahma told the cop
to gundan & the cop cowers,
because in dream chinatown the police are afraid
of four foot nine chinese grandmas.
last night i dreamed of chinatown
& no one harassed grand street dried fish
grandma or mulberry fake gucci grandma
or mott street bakery grandma. in dream chinatown
mott street ahma gave me free white rabbits
& a bucket of paint, & i vandalized
every hip new shop on canal. i painted
the zodiac with overgrown horns & barbed
mother tongues & unbound, bleeding feet.
a hissing snake swallowed the new art gallery whole.
a cow sat on the luxury development & flattened it.
overnight, i made canal ugly again, impolite,
made it stink of fish & counterfeit everything.
in dream chinatown grandma got her heat
& water back. grandma dug a hole back home & fell
through the earth to the far side of bayard.
in dream chinatown people bowed, ninety degrees, eyes
on your feet, filial piety in the curve of your back. in dream chinatown, squares of laundry flapped
like wings from fifth floor windows. you tiao & da bing
sold on the side of the road for a dollar fifty. i walked arm in arm with grandma down mott
& she said, i am happy you grew up here.
last night i dreamed of chinatown,
& the streets were paved with gold. last night i dreamed of chinatown.
i dreamed the children home like a monsoon,
& the swampland grew wet & green again.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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