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After Amanda Gorman’s Chance To Shine, A New Group Of Young Poets Follow In Her Footsteps10:48
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Left to right: Serena Yang, Alora Young, Alexandra Huynh and Faye Harrison. (Courtesy of Urban Word/National Youth Poet Laureate Program)
Left to right: Serena Yang, Alora Young, Alexandra Huynh and Faye Harrison. (Courtesy of Urban Word/National Youth Poet Laureate Program)

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

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."

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:

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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. (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 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

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 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

my

shift starts at 5am

i

watch the sunrise from inside a junction box

reach

for the throne of clouds

drifting

above the aldi’s parking lot

i

tell my coworker

i

am a child of construction

in

my family

we

build houses

just

to tear them apart again

i

understand the necessity of the wrecking ball

sitting

in my auntie’s deserted driveway

the

cracked foundation & rotten floorboards

the

roof’s sudden introduction to the basement

this

is a home

uninhabitable

even

for a ghost

i

am alone when the pink walls peel 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 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.


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

This segment aired on May 20, 2021.

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