The National Youth Poet Laureate Program partners with literary arts and civic youth organizations across the U.S. to offer regional Youth Poet Laureate programs and to identify and celebrate strong poetic voices. Amanda Gorman, the 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate who recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the Presidential Inauguration this year, was identified by California Poets in the Schools, an organization that pairs professional poets with classrooms.
Locally, Border Voices works to give students a platform to express themselves creatively though poetry across geographic, cultural and emotional borders. Kids have the opportunity to learn from National Poet Laureates, local teachers and other authors, and their work may be published in the San Diego Poetry Annual.
“Providing students with tools to interact with the world on a metaphorical and poetic level allows them to express emotions and thoughts they might not otherwise share in a classroom setting,” says Katherine Kavouklis, a teacher in Sweetwater School District.
In a recent lesson where students were to write poetry to interpret a piece of fine art, middle schooler Izzie Matias chose to tackle A Crab on Its Back by Vincent van Gogh with the poem “Endless Struggling.” (Read the poem at the end of this article.)
Izzie chose Van Gogh’s painting because the crab was relatable. Izzie describes a year of struggle and feeling helpless, much like the crab appears. The poem does a wonderful job of portraying the tension and movement Van Gogh created with his unique artistic style and complementary color scheme.
Another lesson prompted students to compose a Haiku about something that disturbed them or made them feel happy during winter break. A Haiku is a three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. Alianna Amador addressed recent events with her Haiku “We All Take Cover.”
We all take cover
A monster roams free outside
When will it be slayed?
Alianna says the monster can be interpreted as any of the struggles people have faced in the last year.
Sometimes a singular voice emerges outside of a program, as writer Anne Malinoski found in her profile of Ben Lou in Flourishing Families. Anne introduced us to a competitive youth mathematician with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).
Ben wrote “Sumo Wrestler” to convey the love he feels for his mom—his champion supporter of his medical and physical needs. (Read the poem at the end of this article.)
Ben may be a mathematician, but he utilizes song and poetry as a creative outlet. “I believe math is logical thinking in its purest and most elegant form, and poetry is to writing as math is to logical thinking,” says Ben. “Part of the power of poetry is in the way the author puts so much thought and care into a few words. This encourages the reader to pause, ponder and imagine the meaning behind each phrase. Poetry makes us slow down and savor the complexity of...life.”
Poetry Programs for Youth Writers
- The National Youth Poets: www.poets.org/national-youth-poets
- Border Voices: www.bordervoices.com
- California Poets in the Schools: www.californiapoets.org
by Benjamin Lou
Dedicated to my loving mother.
Ever since I was born
You’ve been my sumo wrestler
Straining, heaving to lift my limp body against my mounting weight
The sweat beading on your determined body
The eyebrows clenched together like fists
You’ve always been there for me
Body set against the inexorable tug of nature and society pushing my soul down
Your sweat beading in your heart
Your endless love for me resolutely clenched inside you like fists
Your wrestler’s powerful arms encircling, protecting me like a suit of diamond
Would you feel lighter if I weren’t around?
Does the sweat ever cool?
Do the fists ever unclench?
Even in your sleep, are you ever liberated?
But I don’t say anything
And so in the next hour
You lift me again
Eyebrows clenched together like fists
Sweat beading in your heart
But always remember this
I celebrate your being here
I celebrate every drop of sweat that pours from your weary body
I celebrate you
by Izzie Matias
Inspired by A Crab on its Back by Vincent van Gogh
I lie here on my back, squirming as
I’m engulfed in the aches and pains I feel
from being chained to the floor.
All I can do is stare into the cloudy,
emerald green void that fills the space around me.
My mind is overflowing with anxiety from the
suffocating silence that even makes the
airs’ whispers echo.
As time passes and no one comes to my rescue,
I realize that I need to let go.
It is time to accept my fate,
for this was truly my mistake.
My eyes shut as the pain
along with the misery fades away.
Emily Dolton has been hooked on poetry ever since she won her first poetry award at age 12 in a contest promoting Grandparent’s Day in the Glens Falls Post Star.