By Jeanette Anderson
Coordinator, National Student Poets Program (NSPP)
As autumn swept across New York City, the 2013 Class of National Student Poets prepared to leave their hometowns for the Big Apple. Home of Walt Whitman and cobble stone streets. Home of Brownstones and Marianne Moore. The National Student Poets read more poems. They matched the names of poets they have loved and known on paper with their headshots; ready to recognize them in person and spot them out of the crowd. “Poet! I implore you!” They decided what to pack (slacks? jeans?). They wondered if they could even squeeze in a Broadway Show or extra slice of New York pizza into their trip. They filmed the incredible “Poets in the Park” on a crisp, beautiful morning in Central Park. And what brought them to this great and literary metropolis? All five attended – and took part in – the Academy of American Poets’ Poets Forum from October 24 – October 26, 2013.
Here’s what they had to say about their collective adventures:
Southeast’s Aline Dolinh:
• “I remember New York almost greedily, as if to keep myself from forgetting myself – my hands stowed in coat pockets in the morning chill, the chime of subway doors opening, all five of us ready and eager to drink up the entire city.”
West’s Nathan Cummings:
• “The whole weekend, in fact, could conceivably have been one surprisingly detailed dream that I would inevitably have to wake up from in my return to rainy Pacific Northwest reality,” Nathan writes. On stage at the Poets Awards Ceremony, Nathan remembers “listen[ing] to a French poem translated on stage and [holding] our collective breaths for Patricia Smith’s masterful spoken performance—the latter ending in a hair-raising countdown that left the audience completely silent.” He continues “I can’t think of a better testament to poetry’s variability, this smorgasbord of styles presented onstage for the world to see. It makes me hopeful for my own work and for the classes I’ll be teaching this year. If nothing else, I can spread the word with a clear conscience that poetry is completely free of all restriction or convention.”
Midwest’s Sojourner Ahebee:
• “After going to the forum and hearing many stories from poets around the nation who were there because they had been pushing themselves to write since the beginning of time, I felt an urge and a responsibility to write for “me.” Now, my book shelves groan from the weight of poetry waiting to be read, and even if that means going to bed at 1 AM, I know I am resting with the written word in my mouth.”
Southwest’s Louis Lafair:
• Louis was especially moved by Carolyn Forche’s “Blaney Lecture.” The Blaney Lecture, an annual series presented each year at Poets Forum, was created in memory of former Academy of American Poets Board member Dorothy Gulbenkian Blaney by a gift from her estate. Louis reflects “Carolyn Forché, who gave a moving talk on the “poetry of witness,” described how the ‘mark of experience [is] burned into a poem and made legible there.’ As we embark on a year as poetry ambassadors, I’ll be taking this view of poetry to heart. I’m sure I’ll be burning some more of my own experiences into poems.”
Northeast’s Michaela Coplen:
• Michaela returned home to present in time for her class assignment, “poetry Friday.” She presented “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forche to her class in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and shared how it was a “perfect opportunity to share some of what Ms. Forché discussed during the Blaney Lecture with my peers.” One of Michaela’s favorite quotes from Carolyn Forche’s lecture that she shared with her classmates was “intellectuals and artists cannot ignore the responsibility to public service.” Michaela remembered much of Juan Felipe Herrera and Naomi Nye Shihab’s panel discussion on “the Art of Teaching Poetry” at Poets Forum, which resonated deeply with all five Poets, while approaching her own poetry presentation at school. She turned to Juan Felipe Herrera’s advice to “‘never be too sure of what you’re doing’ [because] poetry is most contagious in an atmosphere of spontaneity.” She began her class presentation by opening the discussion with the simple question, “so, does anyone like [the poem]? Where does it take you?” Michaela shared how amazed how “almost everyone had a lot of strong feelings about ‘The Colonel.’ From this initial outpouring of disgust and disbelief, I was able to steer the conversation towards the idea of “poetry of witness” and prose poetry.”
We hope that poetry not only rests in your bones but pumps more oxygen into your blood, commanding you to read and write more.
Have a question for the National Student Poets about their experience at Poets Forum? Ask them on the National Student Poets Program Facebook Page.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers partner to present the National Student Poets Program (NSPP), the country’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. Five outstanding high school poets whose work exhibits exceptional creativity, dedication to craft, and promise are selected annually for a year of service as national poetry ambassadors.