After Amanda Gorman’s chance to shine, a new group of young poets follows in her footsteps


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The country’s first young poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, has become a household name after her fiery performance at President Biden’s inauguration.

Now four teenage poets are in the running for this year’s title National laureate of the young poet.

The winner will be announced Thursday night and will be broadcast in partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The winner is chosen based on their commitment to artistic excellence, civic engagement and social justice.

Here Now contacted the finalists to learn more about their work and how they use poetry as a tool of expression.

Alexandra Huynh, 18, Sacramento, CA

Alexandra Huynh. (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)

Alexandra Huynh, an American-Vietnamese poet, says her introverted nature growing up gave her the space and time to create poetry as “a way to process my emotions and share them with people in a way. which seemed very sure to me ”.

Using imagery, sound and even silence, the 18-year-old girl uses poetry as a container to dissect her emotions.

“I feel like I’m able to show what’s going on inside my head on the outside, so to speak,” she says.

“Lifecycle of a chat call” by Alexandra Huynh

Read from top to bottom. Repeat.

But because you see my body as an invitation to comment,

I must now remember that I am a woman.

I stopped to be polite. First mistake –

if you really wanted it, you wouldn’t ask for it.

Now ask me what I want. Not really:

His words will break down in your chest, but you will survive the bloat.

That’s what scares me.

Today I envisioned a bowl of steaming noodles and imagined how,

knocking it over like a chess piece in resignation, my mother

would build up the mess with napkins and exercised speed,

and I would watch, again; letting the hot liquid spill over my knees

until I feel clean. Who knows what might happen

if this body looked less like mine?

Some metaphors probably praised. And a search of oneself.

I’m not as brave as I look in these

“I’m-sorry-he-made-you-uncomfortable” that I send to all my girlfriends.

I have a flight instinct.

Maybe, this is my account:

The one where my skin finally comes off its frame,

conceding the nervous disorder of the flesh, as the inky shame flows

of each hole. And every day I let go of the body

so that I can exist despite this.

The shirts hang from me like flags on an unclaimed nation. And my hair

becomes towed freight. I am a parade. I ___.

___.

I am the object of the sentence,

so now everything happens to me,

and none of this is my fault,


Alora Young, 17, Nashville, Tennessee

Alora Young.  (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)
Alora Young. (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)

Alora Young uses poetry as a form of journaling. But more recently, she has often used it to explore her personal history and genealogy as a Black American.

The 17-year-old says she discovered the family who enslaved her family in western Tennessee and that the assailant had two sons who fought against each other in the battle of Fort Pillow.

Young says she doesn’t know how she might have handled this information if it weren’t for poetry.

“Because creating art out of something makes you feel more than anger,” she says.

“On Kurdistan” by Alora Young

When you see that we let you die

will your memory make us enemies?

We take the lies in stride

and look away from the massacre

The caliber of betrayal our country makes

feels like Cain’s fable and able

we made the same mistakes before

and I still have the nerve to say never again

these blood-soaked crops taste like this original sin.

No one ever wants to be on the wrong side of history

but we don’t listen to his rhymes

because modern men hate poetry

more than they hate war crimes.

The media hate to put a blank face on the enemy.

We let Russia rush in and see ourselves as spectators

hand over our brothers in arms to the isis commanders

we see the riches born of war

but we no longer count the bodies in the trenches.

Like the ashes of the children we left in Iraq,

Right now, it looks like genocide is the new black one.

Give me your sick tired, your huddled masses

Hide our country lies with mustard gas

this country is a palace of misconceptions

the Constitution is adorned with superb deceptions

no wonder we’re so calm

when the time comes to leave our friends for dead

Kurdistan was there for us

Now we let their streets turn red.

You can’t bury history under a fig tree

it chases you, and it haunts you and it begs you

to see people under the skin “too dark for airports”.

But we’ll never call it genocide

because browns are only 2/3 human.

Abraham didn’t fight for it

he spread the love of a god named

in a book that we rewrite for that

the gap between “us and them” is a savior

we repackaged white powder in white hoods,

This is how we recycle fascist regimes as plastic products

I am angry that we value the turtles more than the moors.

I am angry that we are fighting to hide from bigger wars.

I’m crazy that we have “us” and “them” and the centuries that they go through.

And I only have one prayer left for Kurdistan.


Faye Harrison, 19, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Faye Harrison.  (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)
Faye Harrison. (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)

When asked what they want people to know about them, 19-year-old Faye Harrison is honest about being an alcoholic and proud to be sober for three years.

They are also a high school dropout and use poetry to aid in healing.

“I feel like these are incredibly stigmatized identities and for me, I’ve used poetry a lot to talk about those identities and to get it happening in me,” Harrison says.

They say it was a scary thing when at 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 drug addiction is a disease, ”says Harrison.

“Portrait of the alcoholic in the home depot after kaveh akbar” by Faye Harrison

my

shift starts at 5 a.m.

I

watch the sunrise from inside a junction box

reach

for the throne of the clouds

derivative

above the Aldi parking lot

I

tell my colleague

I

am a child of construction

in

my family

we

To build houses

fair

to tear them up again

I

understand the need for the wrecking ball

meeting

in my aunt’s deserted alley

the

cracked foundation and rotten floors

the

sudden introduction of the roof into the basement

this

is a house

uninhabitable

even

for a ghost

I

I’m alone when the pink walls stand out from the living room


Serena Yang, 19, Queens, New York

Serena Yang.  (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)
Serena Yang. (Courtesy of Urban Word / National Youth Poet Laureate Program)

Serena Yang has lived in Queens since her family immigrated from Singapore when she was in her first grade.

The 19-year-old identifies as Chinese and Asian-American, but she’s not sure if she wants to be American.

“I’m more interested in being part of a political line of Asian Americans who are invested in the liberation of colonized people,” she says.

Yang says everything she knows about herself was first revealed through her poetry. She privately says that she doesn’t feel like a poet, but rather like someone who writes poetry.

She doesn’t know if she will continue to use it as a tool of expression indefinitely.

“I want to travel the world with a lot of love for my people and this work may sound like poetry right now, but it may not be in the future,” she says.

“Last night I dreamed of Chinatown” by Serena Yang

last night I had a dream about Chinatown:

big street dried fish ahma told the cop

to gundan and the cops curl up,

because in the dreamy Chinatown, the police are afraid

four foot nine Chinese grannies.

last night i dreamed of chinatown

& no one has harassed the dried fish of the high street

grandma or mulberry fake gucci grandma

or grandmother bakery rue mott. in the dreamy Chinatown

mott street ahma gave me free white rabbits

& a bucket of paint, & I vandalized

each new boutique connected to the canal. I painted

the zodiac with overgrown horns and barbed wire

Tongues and unbound feet that bleed.

a hissing snake swallowed the whole new art gallery.

a cow sat on the luxury development and flattened it.

overnight I made the channel ugly again, rude,

it reeked of fish and all counterfeit.

in chinatown grandmother’s dream had her heat

& return water. grandma dug a hole at home and fell

across the land across the bayard.

in the dream, the people of Chinatown bowed, ninety degrees, eyes

on your feet, filial piety in the curve of your back. in the dreamy Chinatown, squares of laundry were beating

like the wings of the fifth-story windows. you tiao & da bing

sold by the side of the road for a dollar fifty. I walked arm in arm with grandmother in stockings

And she said, I’m glad you grew up here.

last night I dreamed of Chinatown,

& the streets were paved with gold. last night I dreamed of Chinatown.

I dreamed of the children at home like a monsoon,

and the swamps became wet and green again.


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Locke also adapted it for the web.

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