National Student Poetry Program

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: Well
hello and welcome. I’m Carla Hayden at the Librarian
of Congress and I’m delighted to welcome you to the Appointment
Ceremony for the 6th class of the National Student Poets. Please give them another hand. [ Applause ] I’d also like to welcome
those in the hometowns of our national student poets who
are watching online this afternoon; St. Margret’s Episcopal
School, some people are here. In San Juan, Capistrano,
California, the Blake School and Minnesota Writing Project in
Minneapolis, Minnesota, very good, okay, Downingtown STEM Academy
in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. [ Applause ] The John B. Alexander High School
in Loreto, Texas [applause] and the Mary Riley Styles Public
Library in Falls Church, Virginia. [ Applause ] Now just a few minutes ago,
we held pinning ceremony for these five immensely
talented young poets in my office. One of the perks of being
the Librarian of Congress, and I got to talk with them
about what it means to take on a big public role
championing books and writing, and also to ask them how they
started being inspired to make magic with words and you will
hear more about that soon. I’m also very pleased that we are
welcoming the National Student Poets Program back to the library. In fact, the very first
class received their pins in the library’s historic
poetry office, home of our U.S. Poet Laureate. Now for this year’s class, we brought back the 21st Poet
Laureate, Juan Filipe Herrera. [ Applause ] Who was joined by the
acclaimed actor and National Student Poetry
champion, Alfre Woodward. [ Applause ] Now, you’ll hear a bit from both of
them later, but I’m pleased to say that our recent laureate
will be leading a workshop for the National Student Poets
tomorrow, Miss Tracey Smith. I can’t, whoop. [ Applause ] Now, I can’t imagine
though a more enthusiastic and dynamic teacher
than Juan Filipe. So, National Student Poets you are
in for a life-changing experience. In fact, life-changing
feels like the perfect way to describe your year to come and
all you will do in your new roles. You don’t have to take
my word for it, one of the very first
National Student Poets, Luisa Banchoff recently
wrote about her experience for our Poetry Center blog. And one point stuck out for
me, she’s now a history teacher in Botswana and she asked you to
“Recognize what makes your poetry so precious, is potential
to touch others in surprising and comforting ways. It’s capacity to make us feel
communion with other people, to make us feel less
unmoored in a chaotic world.” So, Annie, Kinsale, Ben, Juliet,
Camilla I am eager to hear you read for the first time as National
Student Poets, and I look forward to you making good on
Luisa’s words and now I’d like to welcome my friend
and colleague Kit Matthew, Director of the Institute of Museum
and Library Services to tell us more about this program and its partners. Kit. [ Applause ]>>Kathryn K. Matthew: Well thank
you very much Carla and thank you for hosting this even here today. We really appreciate your work
as a librarian, a former member of the National Museum
and Library Services Board and as a fellow ex-officio member
of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. On behalf of the Institute of
Museum and Library Services, we always enjoy working with
our colleagues at the Library of Congress on the National Book
Festival and we look forward to another successful
festival this year. I’m delighted to be with you all
today to celebrate this 2017 class of the National Student
Poets Program. IMLS is proud to have partnered
with PCAH and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers
to establish this program which shares exemplary
works from teen poets like those we honor here today
with a national audience. The approximately 123,000 libraries,
and 35,000 museums nationally, and related organizations
have long been centers of learning inspiration community
and creativity for writers and learners of all ages. And the National Student Poets
Program leverages the role of these third spaces
libraries and museums in promoting the cultural
participation of youth and empowering communities
to celebrate creative voices. This year’s five exceptional student
writers, Annie, Kinnsale, Ben, Juliet, and Camilla
were selected by some of our nation’s finest
literary voices and leaders in education rising to the top of
more than 300 national medalists in the Scholastic Art
and Writing Awards. They will receive academic awards,
opportunities to showcase their work in libraries, museums and
schools, and at special events. We hope these young writers or
poets will share their passion, literary creativity and
talent to inspire their peers and community members locally and foster an even deeper
appreciation for poetry. IMLS is actively working with
our partners on the future of this program and we remain
committed to recognizing and lifting up the work of young writers like
these five poets we honor this year. Their voices are powerful
and you will hear that when they read
and so is their poetry. Poetry has the power
to inspire curiosity and change the way we
perceive our world. It has the power to connect
people across generations and spark those critical dialogues and community spaces
including the libraries and museums across our nation. I’d also like to take
this opportunity to recognize all the work that the
President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities has put into the
National Students Poets Program. Their time and energy and dedication
has been invaluable to the success of this series of events, so please
join me in thanking PCAH staff for making this ceremony
and program a success. [ Applause ] So, in closing, I’d like
to share with you a quote from American poet Jane Kenyon;
“The poet’s job is to put into words those feelings
we all have that are so deep and so important, and yet, so
difficult to name, to tell the truth in such a beautiful
way that the people, we the people, cannot
live without it.” In closing, I charge you five take
poetry into our nation’s places of learning, into our
schools, museums, our libraries, and community spaces. Reflect and amplify the multiple
voices and stories around you. You are a key part of our nation’s
future and the caliber of your work and the strength of
your passion tells me that the future indeed bright. So, congratulations on
your accomplishments. We look forward to following your
continued service throughout the next year, and we really
sincerely will be following you through social media and in person. So, now it’s my pleasure to introduce Virginia McEnerney the
Executive Director for the Alliance of Young Artists and Writers and to tell you a little
bit about the program. [ Applause ]>>Virginia McEnerney: Good
afternoon and we are so honored to be here with you all today with
our wonderful partners, Dr. Hayden and the fine folks at the
Library of Congress and the Poetry and Literature Center, Dr. Kit
Matthew and our colleagues at IMLS, Nancy Weiss and Dennis
Mangel, and Robin Dale. Our founding partner the
President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities; supporters including
Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets, esteemed
guest Juan Felipe Herrera, Alfre Woodard, and you. I want to honor and
acknowledge the inspiration and founder behind the
National Student Poets Program, Olivia Morgan who’s
also here with us today. Thank you so much [applause]. For your heart, Olivia. Thank you. I know we have some
National Students Poets alums in the audience. Can I see you? So, [inaudible] do I
see you back there? And McKayla. Thank you so much for coming. We’re so happy to have you here. Thank you. Are you pointing? And Stella, you guys and go Paul
and Maya I see you back there. Thank you for coming. Thank you for coming to support
your brothers and sisters in poetry. Last April during National
Poetry Month, I accompanied 2016 National Student
Poet Maya Salameh on her tour of workshops as she gave
workshops and readings across northern California. One night when, one Wednesday
night in a pouring rainstorm, the Yuba-Sutter Regional
Arts Counsel in Marysville, California hosted an
open mic reading with Maya as the featured guest. After Maya read a few poems,
community members stepped to the stage in work
clothes, and uniforms, and cowboy hats to
read their own work. It was an amazing, amazing evening of community building
and connection. I think everyone in the room would
have been as moved, as wowed, as I was not only by the quality of
the work from the people in the room and the humor and honesty that
was expressed, but by the fact that the program does exactly
what it sets out to do. It brings poetry into people’s lives and it brings the poetry
that’s inside them out into their communities. Here is what we know, poetry
lives, it shortcuts the expression of complex emotions and ideas. Poetry matters. It makes good times sweeter and it
makes hard times easier to bear. Like all art forms, it gives
shape, and depth, and texture, and meaning to our lives and teenagers we have found
are the perfect emissaries. You may know that the word
“teenager” didn’t even come into common usage until the 1920s. Before that, you were either a child
or an adult, but the Depression and child labor laws and the
automobile actually elongated that transition from
child to adulthood. These fine poets became
eligible to be appointed as National Student Poets because they first received
a national poetry medal in a Scholastic Art
and Writing Awards. At the Scholastic Awards
which were founded in 1923, just about that time when
teenagers became a common usage, our focuses on advancing
and advocating for the creative lives of teenagers. Teen poets are particularly
well-suited to serve as advocates. They’re young enough to be
relatable to little kids and they’re mature enough to
be taken seriously by audiences like those of us here
this afternoon. The 2017 National Poets join a
legacy of incredibly young writers who feel poetry in their bones. These poets each have
strong unique voices and their writing reflects the
complex realities and emotions that young people face
in America today. They are prepared to enter this
year of service fully committed to sharing their voices, and
their insights, and their artistry to inspire audiences in large cities
in formal venues like the Library of Congress and in small
town art centers like the one in Marysville, California. Poetry is an ancient art form
that continues to reinvent itself and make itself newly relevant
generation after generation, and we are so proud to be
presenting this generation’s finest young writers. The writer and playwright James
Baldwin wrote, “You write in order to change the world
knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t,
but also knowing that literature is
indispensable to the world. The world changes according
to the way people see it and if you alter even by a
millimeter the way people look at reality, than you can change it.” These young people are changing
the world and we are so honored to be here with you to launch
you into your year of service. It’s now my honor to welcome
an artist who has advocated for these poets from the very
beginning and we’re so proud to have you here with us once
again, the acclaimed actress and activist, Alfre Woodard.>>Alfre Woodard: Hi. Hi. Good afternoon everyone. Good afternoon. Yeah, yeah. I have to tell you I am
totally hyped to be here with you young poets and your
families today, as well as, the intrepid Dr. Carla Hayden. Not only is an honor, it is a joy and a wakening, and
absolute delight. The National Student Poets Program
is something quite dear to my heart. I served on Barack Obama’s
President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities when the
visionary Olivia Morgan proposed this program six years ago. Together, she the PCAH and
lots of other entities dreamed and they labored this into
fruition and it has continued to blossom each year since. Engaging in this work and hearing
the voices of our young people from across the nation,
has fortified my education and sustained my hope for and
my belief in this generation. I now get to be here
with you beauties and congratulate you exceptional
few who stand with us today. I applaud you poets who inspire
me in my work and my every days. I see you alumni. The Obama President’s
Committee has a history of catalyzing important events in
the arts and this program is one of our proudest achievements. The National Student Poets is the
highest honor bestowed upon a young poet by their country. With this great honor
comes great responsibility. Each of you will spend the
next year sharing your art and showing the country how crucial
the arts are to each individual and to our society as a whole. We invest in you as you
are the bright promise of our extraordinary nation. We ask in return, that you
pay that investment forward. You go forward engaging with
teens nationally and helping us to reach those who have yet to
discover the power of poetry and the strength that comes
from discovering one’s voice. Your presence in our schools will
inspire in others the courage to discover the raw beauty and
freedom that comes with expressing, owning, and sharing who they are. When PCAH created this program, we had as you’ve heard two
critical partners in the IMLS and the Library of Congress. Thankfully still, because of them, the NSPP is guaranteed a
long life going forward. Also, the resources of all of you in
this room and the many more outside of this room, ensure that NSPP will
carry on the purpose and the promise of this venture, and especially
with the support of our brilliant and woke alumni poets, the 2017
laureates will takeoff soring and join that continuum,
moving across the country, opening minds, and hearts. As our nation crawls then
slouches, occasionally sprints, and now limbs toward our more
perfect union, it is imperative that we Americans recognize and
understand our interconnectedness that we awaken to our
common humanity. Fortunately, have the power
of chosen words to aid us in expressing that truth. Poetry is the mother tongue of
the heart and we are ever grateful that you young ones
speak it so well. It’s not an easy task what you have
before you, but it is a challenge that you’re primed to meet. Turn around, well you’ll see it when
you come here, I want you to look at all the faces in this room, as
you shove off, know that we will be at the ready during
your year of service, to inflate your water wings, to send
you kind bars, and press juices, no Red Bulls, to laugh with you,
to cry a little, to applaud you, and to feed you when you are nearby. We are tremendously excited about
all that you will accomplish. So right now, I am going to ask
you all to come to the stage. Please come up now. [ Applause ] I am excited to introduce
each of the 2017 poets for their first public reading. Then we’ll present
you with your plaques. Our first poet is Anne Castillo
from Falls Church, Virginia. Welcome Anne. [ Applause ]>>Annie Castillo: Hello. I’m Anne Castillo and I’m a
representing the Southeast region this year as a National
Student Poet, and today I will be
reading two poems. This is “Love Letter for a Library.” A creased corner dips under my thumb
like atlas bruising beneath sky. This fold is untidy, accidental
origami I can’t smooth out. A stranger’s hand pressed
this paper like flowers. She left me her crumpled daisy. I dissected syllables
in the window seat, heard my sister curse how
poetry won’t be quiet. In this place, stories
don’t stay dead. Here, I learn Venus flytraps swallow
spiders, plumbs help forgetfulness, and the phena emerged from her
father’s splitting forehead. [Inaudible] noun; parchment from which writing has been
completely erased to make room for other text, something altered, but still bearing visible
traces of its earlier form. Synonyms; butterfly, grief, library. On airplanes I avoid
aisle responsibility, but here, I am brave. Here I must only unfold a corner
to believe I can begin again. Outside a boy plays in
blue boots after rainfall. I imagine this land as
the orchard it once was and that he mashes fallen
peaches with very step. [ Applause ] And I’m not going to read my second
poem on the Discovery of Dinosaurs; I dream of a phantom
femur far below, pale as puddled moonlight
on a chapel’s roof. The beast became bones. Time shucking scales from
its body, sinew dissolving into clumps of stringy roots. The earth is now a crypt. A dragon’s tail perhaps for the
murmurs or a giant skeleton. Ribcages emerged in
vast hallowed chambers like a cathedral’s arch
then teeth came next. Oh God, what is this creature
whispered like a prayer? I used think of the dinosaurs
who became bones and shadow like a lilac forgotten
between the pages of a book. Now, I think of the ones
who unearthed the bones so time’s raw sunlight
could touch those ghosts. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Alfre Woodard: Annie Castillo, I present you with your
National Student Poets Award. [ Applause ] Kinsale Heuston from
Corona del Mar, California. Please come up and stand. [ Applause ] Don’t start yet.>>Kinsale Heuston: Okay.>>Alfre Woodard: Just
in case [brief laughter].>>Kinsale Heuston: Hi. My name is Kinsale Heuston and
I am the National Student Poet for the West and I will be
reading two poems today. The first is called,
Where I Come From, 1992; Sticky peach over powers muggy
bug infested sky, backwater, drainpipe fodder colonial
house with ravine shade. Plantation homes embody black
backs bleeding ghost stories. Gravestone front doors knock
and empty Alabama vacuum space. White boy, Brooklyn born
pre-spiced latte infiltration. Interracial hands entwined
in reed pipe marriage basket. Caucasian curls breathe
and Navaho bandana. Oldest of five Holler boys,
grandsons to Ellis Island Campbells; father gone, single mom,
washed himself to Irish bone. Preacher’s daughter, beloved father,
basketball fanatic, Valedictorian , tinted glasses threaten not
even stepping off red sand. Front porch good enough for reservation pulls
at sinking canyon feet. Smokey sage tracks
lonesome wind calls after her hand overbound playing. Southern discomfort
in sideways glances. Her coiled fingers
dropping penny change and chubby multicolored hands. My brother, Civil Rights rally
namesake sucking sweet water Montgomery air. My sister, old enough to sniff
out powered sugar bigotry. [ Applause ] My second poem is called, Eden on
Avocado Street; The frozen curb pops like gumballs under our
toes as we wait together, pinky fingers folding pages like
secrets under the bus stop sign. You twelve today press
[inaudible] to your breast. Familiar names thumbed smooth
between aisles of driftwood text. My eyes died blue like windowpanes
swallow peppered words like pebbles. I poke at each paragraph with the
crescent curve of my index finger. You always bring me here after
school to this Mausoleum of lost and found, of yellow
cars and mice and men, diamond rings and cherry trees. We swing dance between
tragedy and Dr. Seuss. Heals beating holes into
crown colored carpet, bucking bus rides bring us
here where you wear glasses and I weave my legs
together on beanbag chairs. You teach me to balance on my toes
and cling like books buying glue to that candied lip of asphalt
curb, to press brown thumb to tongue when I turn a page, to linger
at each corner of my mouth and almost taste the
worlds that whirl and coagulate beneath
our sticky touch. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Alfre Woodard: Congratulations
Kinsale. [ Applause ] Please welcome Ben Lee
from Edina, Minnesota. [ Applause ]>>Ben Lee: Hi everyone. My name is Ben Lee. I’m going to be the National Student
Poet representing the Midwest. I’m really thankful
to be here today. The poem I’ll be reading is called,
League of Thieves; I go to school with a class of thieves, a bunch of book smart Brainiacs
slugging in the minor leagues. Yeah, we are eager
beaver of busy bee, but better to be more
cut throat than that because these crooks are
cooking up some words for flavor and you’re going to want to be
here when they’re ready to be rare. Yeah, I go to school with a class
of thieves, but don’t mistake us for those brassy pickpockets
or some swindler syndicate, nah we ain’t your average
cat burglar. Our heists are for the long haul and
not just because we’re comfortable, but because of one and done
doesn’t cure a sweet tooth for New York coffee with Caulfield
or some peanut butter and mayonnaise on toast with yang, no
it doesn’t cure a craving for a story truth from O’Brien. Among the awkward shelves made of awkward timber you
can find us scavenging for a little unpublished
history, from a Franklin that ain’t famous reveling in west
[inaudible] rambunction and peaking at whose eyes are really
watching God. Yeah, I want to learn how
to boo like a mockingbird, study how [inaudible], I want
to go back to the blue border where the characters
claim their author and lose my confusion to curiosity. We aren’t addicts, at
least, I don’t think we are. Maybe a little neurotic, greedy
of course, but we’ve got logic because this feels too
normal to be immoral. I go to school with a
class of thieves taught by a purposeful plaid
man who once assured me that no one ever borrows a story. We pinch from the east wing stacks
in a way that can’t be corrosive, because even though we take
testimony like vultures, no manual ever resigns from this
head space without packing first, but I rush to catch rubies,
metaphors, bubble gum chewed opals, and the multitudes of in-truth
imagery whittled onto the bellies of uneven tables, man
I used to spend spells and half-baked seasons trying to
figure out why these themes tasted so independent in my mouth
and so separate in yours, but I have discovered that
dictionaries can be traded like currency, invested upon like
some profitable wears I have folded, ivory epics, episodes in chapters
seven times over and have never been so indifferent to an ethos
racing down the backstretch. So again, I am reminded that this
is our library, our bank vault, our quiet acropolis in which we
wrap ourselves in trinity knots just to strike enough sage until
we are ready to pencil in more than just failed syllables
on a titled page. Suddenly, from the
fictional guide books and fairytale how-to’s us
unglorified wrestlers must decide whether to paint our hydrangeas
like corn flowers, like acid, like the way lavender should smell
only I keep reading remembering that I go to school with a
class of thieves who steal in a heterogeneous union of pleasure
and necessity who keep weaving and shoplifting yarn even
though we aren’t doggy-dog because we have only
read about rock bottom. Lightning strikes us somewhere
in between a Bart Simpson and a [inaudible], but
not too close to either because we live just outside
of literature spending most of our time picking out the
padlock trying to back inside. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Alfre Woodard: Dude,
that was so cool. Aright here you can have this one. I just said, dude,
dude that was so cool. Congratulations Ben. [ Applause ] Now, please welcome Juliet Lubwama. [ Applause ] I have to say from
Downingtown, Pennsylvania. [ Applause ]>>Juliet Lubwama: Hello. My name is Juliet Lubwama and
I’ll be representing the Northeast as a National Student
Poet this year, and my first poem is Flight
is a Three Parts Novel; The statuette knows more than
Athenaems fathoms more than pigtails and fingerprints that flock
over her scapula like wings. A question resides
in her skin asking where the blooming hands have gone. I tell her our words are rekindling and when stories become
strangers we burrow in stagnation. Yet I have an endured a reverse
metamorphosis and unbecoming. We thought that this was
home until it wasn’t. Reading lights and lullabies
defined our solid ground with hearts in the right place, but they
upset the symmetry of our bodies. We tucked novels under
our right arms like seeds, like baking legacies, like
balance hid in biographies that martyred our juniorities but sometimes I identify more
stick and stone than soul. Sometimes I wish I could
still see myself in her. My legs crossed cut behind me
like butterflies carrying a book like a pearl and not a pond. Willow lines of age gather
in her hair and trousers. Still her cheeks stay rounded
like a page mid turned, a storyline expecting but
not waiting to be told. What chiseled rock and
novel share is the pliancy of their existences
witnessed to the hazy streets, the Pancake House, and
other rising things. This is a perpetual ascension. This dog eared parenthesis festers
in the cerebellum and mutters sky like echo, like it’s
still all we know. [ Applause ] And my second poem is
Trying to Find Home; My parents crossed the
ocean cracking can’ts and Locke’s philosophies
between their teeth like walnuts. Western learned but foreign
and how they hold themselves like waterlogged apples
dangling by the stem. Finding unexpected asylum with
strangers, the familiar lilts in their tones, carving
homes out of each other, but when a cousin questions
where I’m from? My tongue becomes a
salmon pink and floundering as if an answer could
be found in a lifetime. My family tree is worn and trampled,
sieged by storms, by dictators, by slavery, my kin arrived with
textbooks swaying on their heads and shackles around their ankles. Still, in a land we
have yet to call home, our neighbors see our cacao
hands whether they be doused in blood or saltwater. Even this can become a sanctuary. [ Applause ]>>Alfre Woodard: Congratulations
Juliet. [ Applause ] And now please welcome Camilla
Sanmiguel from Laredo, Texas. [ Applause ]>>Camilla Sanmiguel: Hello. My name is Camilla Sanmiguel and
I’ll be representing the Southwest as a National Student
Poet this year. Today I’ll be reading My Mother
Still Presses My Collars for Me; I am not a poet: Starting
at the beginning of a road bookshelves will
sometimes, but not always, lead you to the end;
210 natural theology, this library is a religion,
a magnified category of the Dewey Decimal System, a
system of veneration a sacrament; 108; groups of people
accelerated rises and degenerations and hives recorded
dutifully in the immensity of civilizations collective
data processing; 220; the bible; I am not a poet. I am scripture snapping apart at
the binding reverence crushed open on golden page edges, smudges
of silk streamed innocence, spinal thread unraveling
eye and knowing, knowing, knowing [inaudible] in all the wrong
places and I am falling in love with an icon class to the library. I draw feathered lines between
theology animal cracker crumbs and philosophy and I dub the three
doctrines a cornerstone of true and inherent self-understanding;
561; paleobotany; a study in the army of ladybugs
marching between carpet fibers, paleo as in ancient, as in
connecting of generations; 340; law; I write memorandums in this library
and not poetry, although whispers of beauty can be found
between presentencing reports, statutes to finding our boundaries
and we sit and yawn and ponder over the best way to write stoic
opinions, hostility wrapped in the polite gauze of directness. The sacrilege of ambiguity is not
a luxury afforded in these stacks; 114; space; 115 time; stanzas are
tucked into different corners. These words are charred splinters
of bookshelves being burned. They are singed church steeples,
the vernacular of a child learning to build and destructs things within
the boundaries of sincerity of, “is this me” reflected in the
titles jumbled on the way to my mind of surely not, refracted in the
beeping of a sensor tag; 184; platonic philosophy; humanism
is denoted by the currency of computer generated rocks used for
permission to enter the playground and for a child that art of
self-betterment is often pursued through the carving of
another crevice of knowledge, the addition of a paperback
committed to memory. The edges of the universe sputter on our ivory domes skimming cloud
painted frescos while modern day patrons skim popsicle stained
fingertips on the frames of library double doors,
flanked by figures of turtle perplexity captured in
the face of marble statues mirrored in the moment of revelation;
120; the self; I am this a splintering
façade the weights of millions before me here a
palladian homage to everything that holds a society together,
unfathomable worlds cracking open in an instant and today, it is
reduced to one question; 608; patent; why do patent lawyers
need science backgrounds? I receive a muddled answer
from a student in the elevator. At the library, this is a question
I etched into a scrap of paper and tucked into the
cushion of an armchair. If I come back in a week,
I will have an answer. [ Applause ] Thank you. Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Alfre Woodard: Congratulations
Camilla. [ Applause ] So, I am overwhelmed. I am overcome. Please give our 2017 poets
another round of applause. [ Applause ] Yeah, because you’re going to want
to see what’s happening next, okay. So, right now please welcome
to the stage Joey Reisberg. A National Student Poet
from 2016 and he’s going to share some reflections with us. Joey. [ Applause ] Nobody’s drank that
water, so you go ahead.>>Joey Reisberg: Hello. It’s so great to be
here on this amazing day and hear some reflections
on this past amazing year. In June, my fellow 2016 National
Student Poets and I stood in a third grade classroom at
the Harlem Academy listening to 9-year-olds recite an original
collaborative poem about ice cream. I like to think of this moment as
essential during the madcap rush of the past year, the brightness of young voices proudly
exclaiming their creation. The; I lost my place for a second. The smiles as lines like swirly
I wish I could have some more. The tempting taste is lovely and it makes us feel good
ring through the air. The vividness of their poem,
the imagery of sprinkles and sunshine it all feels
like a beautiful dream. I think I can speak
for all my fellow poets when I say this year
was a whirlwind. It all started back in
September when we were appointed at the White House by former First
Lady, Michelle Obama and after that came a dizzying rush
of readings and workshops and appearances at high school. Our pack of poets have
traversed the country from the Dodge Poetry Festival in
Newark, New Jersey to the Aspen, Colorado Ideas Festival, to
Johnstown, Pennsylvania and El Paso in Northern California, and
Minnesota, and Nashville, and New York City, and San
Diego, and Chicago, and Dallas, and Atlanta try and track
our progress on a map and you get a messy spaghetti tangle
of crazily intercepting lines. Our service projects include working with first generation
immigrant youth, the elderly, elementary school students
and mine happening next month, a celebration of local poetry
at the Baltimore Book Festival. We have met poets like Mark
Doty and Edward Hirsch, performed at Carnegie Hall, spent
an afternoon at the Huffington Post, done radio interviews and TV
appearances, and in my case, read a poem about chicken fat
on the Lincoln Center Stage; that’s a long story, I’m sorry. But of course, we were not
alone on these endeavors. So a million thank yous go to
Hannah, and Debra, and Virginia, and everyone at the Alliance
for Young Artist and Writers, and the President’s Committee
on the Arts and Humanities, and the Institute for Museum
and Library of Services, and thank you to our parents
and a special thank you to Dr. Carla Hayden and
the Library of Congress for hosting the Appointment
Ceremony this year. Libraries are where I read some
of the first poems of my life at the Enoch Pratt in
downtown Baltimore. Libraries align with one
of the central missions of the National Student Poets
Program to foster creativity and hope with accessibility to bring
knowledge and literature to people who really need it, and to the
class of 2017, congratulations. You are here today because of
your astounding poetic promise because you show the spark
of something special. Right now, is your celebration time. Savor this moment of joy and let
the affirmation you are experiencing today guide you throughout
your year of service. You will be challenged to bring
out the best parts of yourself, to do things you’ve never even
thought about doing, to stand and to realize you serve a unique and necessary purpose
whether you are standing in front audiences of
one or one thousand. It’s not easy, but we don’t write
poetry because of its simplicity. As poets you have learned
to love complexity, to reside with an ambiguity, to ask
questions that may not have answers and now you must take those
things you already do so well and apply them to the
experiences this year will bring. Above all, the National
Student Poets Program is about communication. Poetry itself is, of
course, communication. A kind of telepathic understanding
built with metaphor and imagery and all the intuitive things which
the perceptive jurors have loved about your writing, but at the
root of the amazing year you about to embark on, is the same
basic principle; how are you going to take the acclaim and joy
of right here and right now and bring it to your own community? How are you going to use poetry
to uplift the voices of those who deserve to be celebrated
and heard? How can you build doors and
gateways with your beautiful words? And here’s a secret, I as a
recent alumni, do not fully know. Yes, I’ve been through the
magical and transformative year, but I do not have all
of the answers, but that’s the beauty
of this program. We have each other and now a six
year network of poets dedicated to answering the lofty and ambitious
questions NSPP poses to us. We each contribute a little
bit more and a little bit more to bring poetry to America. Swelled heads and going solo
are opposite to the spirit of poetry despite the stereotype
of a poet as a disgruntled loner. You will learn that poetry is
a vibrant and growing world, a tightly bound community, and
so we the alumni have a request; we need your words. We need your words to be honest and
true to be diverse, to be funny, to reflect your soul while
still standing up for others. A lot has changed in the
year since I and the class of 2016 have been appointed. So, we need your words to guide
us forward, to give us hope and show us the brave new future of
the National Student Poets Program. Thank you. [ Applause ] Thank you. It is my honor to welcome Poet
Laureate Juan Filipe Herrera. [ Applause ]>>Juan Filipe Herrera:
Well, thank you very much. What a wonderful presentation. Let’s give him a big mono. [ Applause ] And let’s give Alfre a
big mono too why not. Let’s give her the biggest mono. [ Applause ] And our new national youth poets. Let’s give them a super
heartful mono. [ Applause ] A little bit bigger. [ Applause ] That’s the feeling. That’s the feeling
and after Carla Hayden who charted a new course
for us, a super mono. [ Applause ] And let me just mention Rob Casper
and the staff and the Poetry Center, the Literature Department a big
super [foreign word spoken] mono. [ Applause ] And you know this is what
it’s all about right here. This is how the poetry is formed. This is how we do it. People say, what, what,
how do you do the poetry and where does it come from? This is how it happens when we are
with each other and when we think of each other and we sit down
in a lonely corner or we come out in a blasting explosive
space, it’s the same. We make contact with each other,
and we create friendships, and we get ideas, and we
listen to a term and we go “Oh, I hadn’t thought of
that [inaudible]. I hadn’t thought of that. I’m going to look it up.” And eraser that has traces
of the actual original text and perhaps that’s what we’re
doing now, creating a new text. I think that’s what our new
team is going to be doing. Looking at that, at the plain,
at what looks like a blank, and to pullout the messages, and to
pullout the letters, and the voices, and bring them forward and this is
exactly how it happens by listening to each other, by trying
out our poems. Can you believe it? How was that? How was that? Wasn’t that just, you
know, incinerating? And that’s the feeling. If your heart is not on fire
and your energy is not pulsing through the floor and up through the
roof, then you’re not doing poetry and you were doing poetry. That’s what you were doing. Weren’t they just intense
and beautiful? Aren’t they prophets? Let’s give them another big hand. [ Applause ] And that’s what’s going
on, you know. The new example, the new experiment,
the new text, the new horizon, the new voice, the new path,
and I think we heard it today. All those formulas, all those
scientific excavations and tests that you all did to
come up with those poems and the words that,
that bring them out. I think every line was a pathway. Every line was a capillary. Every line was a synapse
to the new idea, and that’s what we want right now. We need that new idea. We need the prophets. We need the scientists
that do poetry. The new poetry volcanic scientists
of the nation, and thank you. Thank you for dedicating
your life to this. Thank you for dedicating your
extreme intelligence and creativity to this thing called poetry and
this place called the nation. Thank you for pouring
your lives into it. You’re young, powerful lives
into what we all love here at the library is words, and
histories, and self, and spirit, and communication, and
discovery with your voices. Another big mono. [ Applause ] You know, people do say, you
know, why are you a poet? And why do you do that? Why aren’t you a, you
know, doing something else? And it’s great to do poetry
and it’s such a place to be. We can play, we can as
Malcolm Margolin said, “What happened to recess?” We can do a little recess, but
that recess is a different kind of recess. Perhaps it’s a real recess. I was hanging out with Liam
Humble [phonetic] as you know one of our great poets, and
he says “Juan Filipe.” I said, “Yes Liam.” He says, “Wait a minute. Juan Filipe I got to talk to you.” I go, “Yes, go ahead Liam.” He says, “I got to tell you.” I said, “But please do.” And he says, “Juan Filipe, I want
to be standing up at the edge of a volcano staring into
the mouth of creation.” And I went, “Well, that’s
really very good Liam.” But that what it is. That’s what it is. You’re standing at the edge
of that volcano which is now and you’re staring down
at the mouth of creation which is a very daring thing
to do and didn’t you feel that? Didn’t you feel that edge of
that volcano in their voices? Didn’t you see what they
were seeing just a tad? Didn’t you see it sputtering and
boiling and exploding at you? That was hot. You guys did some hot stuff up here. That was some stuff you know. I can barely, you know,
touch the podium. And that is what we want, you know. And that’s what poetry does. It finds that new thing. It grasps it, it grasp that which is
a graspable which we all are after and it cannot be done in a straight
line, and it cannot be done not even in a rectangular space even though
Einstein worked with rectangles and squares and yet he
said they had not volume. I said, “What is that again?” A rectangle without volume
and yet it has walls? And that’s what you’re doing. You’re creating these paradoxes
and you’re taking us through them and that’s what we need right now. We need that paradox to be not
explained, but presented to us so we can travel through
it and find it. How beautiful that is and
how powerful poetry can be with new lines, with new minds
that are born right in front us. Thank you so much. I believe in you and
do you believe in them?>>Yes. [ Applause ]>>Juan Filipe Herrera: And
this is how poetry happens. How we learn. How we do poetry isn’t it? We listen to each other. We get excited by each
other and we go, oh I’m going to take those terms. So, that’s what I did
reading your poems. How complex and direct
and beautiful they are and how many secrets they contain. So, I did a cardboard shirt
poem; shirt cardboard poem. I usually run out of paper and
I make believe that the shirts that I take to the cleaners
will come back fully ironed, but they always come back crinkled. But what I do get out of
it is that shirt board. So, then I’ll write a poem on it. It feels better because it has
density and a softness, and color, and it’s brown, and it
looks like a gram cracker. I like all that and
I can draw on it. So, this is called A Stranger. Now the question is
reading my own writing. A stranger presses paper like
flowers and I took, as you can begin to feel some lines
and images and words from your poems if that’s okay. A stranger and this is for you; A stranger pressed this
paper like flowers. Like, like, like mountain
eye and thunderbolt face and skeleton hunger forever hungry
in the storms over Houston, like me, like you, flowering, suffering,
giving our skin to the dead for one, just one more life. Gatsby and driftwood my breast
died with dawn died, died, died, with nothingness, not
the easy nothingness, not the easy nationalism I’m
talking, I’m talking freedom. Yellow cars, bend, yes bend
like that beat the holes, beat the crayon blast
on the first precipice of the first unknown
galaxy, that’s, that’s you. I’m talking about, I’m talking
about I’m born yet born unsaid yet with new letters
and the attic spells and the half-baked ivory episodes and the half-baked
guide books to nowhere. You see, you see here now, now
you yes, you lightning strikes and apologizes to the tiny ponds. You must take note darling, we
are the pond, we are that question in their skin, in our
skin, in there, in this, in that and this and though. No, no, no, no, no this and
that just dog eared parenthesis of the cutup split
breath we break to live, to say you are here, welcome. [ Applause ] Thank you. That’s a shirt board poem for you. I dedicate it to you and
I’m going to read one more. Let us for the moment, let us
into our meditations to Houston, let us under our meditations
to Houston, to Kyesha Williams [phonetic]
who took her children to her mother’s place and
returned and in her house and never came back, and to all
the people and these storms, and to the Saleeva [phonetic] family
whose son obeyed his grandfather who had Alzheimer’s and
said, “Well, you know, in our culture we obey our elders.” And he was right, he was right. Grandfather said, “Go, go,
go, go come on you got to go.” And that’s alright. What happened was the
car with the two children and the grandfather kept on going
and the son, grandson stepped out, just got out hoping to open
the van and he couldn’t do it. So let us send our deep
meditations of love and concern and your own heart most of all. To all those families. This is At The Crossroads,
A Sudden American Poem; Rest in peace [foreign name
spoken], Alter Sterling [phonetic], Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens,
Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick
Zamarripa and all their families and to all those injured. This is on the shooting in Dallas At The Crossroads, a
Sudden American Poem. Let us celebrate the lives of all. As we reflect and pray and
meditate on their brutal deaths. Let us celebrate those who marched
that night, who spoke of peace and chanted “Black Lives Matter.” Let us celebrate the officers
dressed in blues ready to protect. Let us know the departed as
we did not know them before. Their faces, bodies, names,
what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke. Before we return to the
usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately. Let us take this moment and
impossible as this may sound, let us find the beauty in their
lives in the midst of their sudden and never imagined vanishing. Let us consider the Dallas
shooter, what made him? What happened in Afghanistan? What flames burned inside? Who was that man in Baton Rouge with the red shirt selling
CDs in the parking lot? Who was that man in Minnesota
toppled on the care seat with a perforated arm in a
continent shaped flood of blood on his white T, who was that man
prone in gone by the night pillar of a central college in Dallas? This could be the first step in
the new evaluation of our society. This could be the first
step of all our lives. Thank you my dears. Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Rob Casper: Thank you Juan
Filipe for that reading and for that inspiring talk, and speaking of
inspiration, thanks as well to Joey and to Alfre and thanks for our work
together to celebrate out new class. I’m Rob Casper. I’m the head of the Poetry
and Literature Center here at the library and my job is to let you know there’s a reception
outside after I finish speaking. So, while you’re there, please grab
some food and drink and say hello to our new poet superheroes
and while you’re at it, you should pick-up a Meet
the Poet’s flyer so you know where to go see said
superheroes in a couple of days at the National Book Festival
which you should all go to. Before we officially end though,
let’s do it one more time, please join me in another
round of applause for the 2017 National Student Poets. [ Applause ] [ Background Conversations ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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