Since the National Student Poets Program (NSPP) launched the class of 2014 last September, these five teenage poets have been actively participating in readings and workshops at locations, ranging from the White House to literary festivals to schools to local libraries, and more. By design, the poets speak to diverse audiences, using their work to inspire and encourage people of all ages to embrace poetry and see the essential role of writing in academic and personal success.
President Obama and the First Lady hosted a poetry workshop celebrating National Poetry Month at the White House on April 17 featuring poet Elizabeth Alexander and an introduction of the President by National Student Poet Madeleine LeCesne. After thanking Madeleine, the President remarked: “Poetry matters. Poetry—like all art—gives shape and texture and depth of meaning to our lives. It helps us know the world. It helps us understand ourselves. It helps us understand others—their struggles, their joys, the ways that they see the world. It helps us connect.”
Being a National Student Poet encompasses both service and professional growth and one of the high points of the year is a series of events during April. Kicking off the month, the Poetry Foundation convened in Chicago Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Competition champions, the 2014 Class of National Student Poets, and representatives of poetry slam and spoken word organizations to examine the role of poetry in youth culture. Poet and Macarthur Fellow Terence Hayes led a workshop with the young poets to hone their craft. For Weston Clark this was a very different experience than his participation later that day in the Mission Creek Literary Festival in Iowa City. Here he and several other youth poets led off a Lit Crawl that took place in venues throughout the city. Dozens of working writers and poets, who had not yet achieved the prominence of Terence Hayes, shared their work in readings and conversations, providing a glimpse of the future for an aspiring writer.
April’s National Poetry Month was full of dramatic contrasts for Weston and the other NSPP poets. Julia Falkner joined the Los Angeles poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez for a reading at one of the country’s largest book festivals—the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books—and she read again later at An Evening of Poetry at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Ashley Gong read with writers and celebrities in Lincoln Center at the Academy of American Poets" Poetry & the Creative Mind and the next day she traveled upstate to Buffalo and Rochester to work with young writers convened by two nonprofit literary organizations. Ashley summarized her experience with these students, saying: “We connected over our mutual love for music and created exquisite corpse poetry inspired by various song lyrics. We also wrote found poetry incorporating as many pre-selected words from a deck of cards as possible, and the students more than stepped up to the challenge! But the love for poetry didn't end there. The next day's travels landed me in Rochester for a fun-filled open mic night at Writers & Books. Shout-out to Canvas Literary Journal for having me as a guest reader; it's always a joy to meet other teenage writers who are similarly passionate for the art of poetry!”
After her appearance at the White House, Madeleine LeCesne led a workshop at the Arkansas Literary Festival in Little Rock, which is an annual event produced by the Arkansas Central Library. South Carolina’s Center for the Book Lunchtime Author Talks featured Cameron Messinides as a reader, and he in turned introduced Ray McManus, author of Punch. These appearances by the NSPP poets at some dozen events touching on communities and organizations both large and small throughout the country reflect the vibrancy of poetry among youth.
All of the poets will be attending events in New York City honoring the winners of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in early June. At the end of the month, they have received a special invitation to participate in the Aspen Ideas Festival. Follow the NSPP poets on Facebook.