Hi! Claire here with the penultimate Poets on Poets blog post featuring National Student Poet Lylla, who represents the Southwest region! For those who are unfamiliar, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services have partnered with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers to present the National Students Poets Program, the country’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. Each year, five National Student Poets are selected through the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for a year of service as poetry ambassadors, each representing a different region of the country. This summer, Lylla has partnered with Hope House, a central Louisiana shelter for women and their children, to lead two poetry workshops for the young children staying there.  She looks forward to her senior year this fall.

National Student Poet Lylla Younes

Meet National Student Poet Lylla Younes!

CL: (Struggles to operate camera after several failed attempts at connecting on Google+ Hangout.) Lylla! You got bangs! (After laughter has settled down.) So, highlight of your year…
LY: Would have to be meeting Edward Hirsch at the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation during the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards ceremony weekend in New York, just because I grew up reading his poetry. My dad has a book and gave it to me when I was young, and I’ve grown up with it. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to do awesome things with poetry like that in the future. I mean, my ultimate poetry ambition is to have his job, where he’s paid to just be a poet and do what he does. Not to mention, I wouldn’t mind working in an office like his—it’s gorgeous! But the most memorable moment during that whole eventful day is when he took me into his office after we all had lunch with him, and we talked about the Arabic ghazal, a poetic form that consists of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. The whole day was special, not just meeting Ed Hirsch, but also reuniting with Terrance [Hayes] and seeing him again. Yeah, we definitely got way closer as a group of poets.

CL: Aww. Yeah, that was also one of my memorable moments from this year. (Pauses.) Despite all the good moments, what was the biggest obstacle/challenge you faced this year?
LY: It was mostly the community service aspect of the role—but it was the good type of challenge, the one that inspires you to grow. So, I was at Rio Grande High School, in an auditorium with a couple hundred kids, and it definitely was a challenge to keep everyone interested while I was on stage, because the kids don’t get much individual one-on-one attention, and I didn’t want to become one of those teachers or people they zoned out. So that was definitely hard. I really got out of my comfort zone because I read my own work aloud on stage, in front of such a large audience.

CL: Oh wow, that must have been quite an experience—how did that affect you and your thoughts on your role as a National Student Poet?
LY: Well, it really made me view art in a different way. I began seeing poetry, art, writing, etc. as forces of change that really have the potential to impact someone’s life, not just something that you enjoy in the moment. I guess what I’m trying to say is that poetry and art extend across class barriers, race, gender, etc.—all the things that hold us back as a society, and art enables us to overcome these barriers together. I witnessed this when I visited the Santa Fe Indian School and got to hang out with their slam poetry club. It was just so amazing to see this group of kids come together to read and write. Art really is a way to overcome hardship, and the camaraderie on that spoken word team is a testament to that. I feel like it’s part of our duty as National Student Poets to help break boundaries through art and poetry.

CL: You just travel all over the Southwest and experience all these amazing things, don’t you? Wow.
LY: Ahaha, yeah. It is pretty amazing. I’m really lucky.

CL: I think we’re all lucky to have these opportunities to reach out to others in our communities. And speaking of communities, you attend the international Armmand Hammer United World College-USA in Montezuma, New Mexico. How does your environment influence your poetry?
LY: That’s a really good question. Well, it’s an environment that’s hardly replicated anywhere else in the world with students from over 100 different countries, which is what I think makes it so unique. The amount of diversity is astounding, given that there are only 200 students. There are so many different cultures, art, and ideas circulating at my school that it’s hard not to be influenced at all by them. But I’d say that I really feel that influence in Writing Club, where we all sit and write together, and ideas flow from one person to another.

CL: And does your own cultural heritage come into play at school and in your writing?
LY: I’m a first generation American—my dad is from Syria and my mom has Hispanic roots. In some way, that blend of Arab and Hispanic influence definitely inspires me. It’s hard to name it exactly, but I know it’s there. It’s been simmered and peppered throughout my life, and I find it so interesting to play around with the different generations of cultures in my writing.


It was nice to see and hear from Lylla again, especially her thoughts on the influence of the cultures she’s surrounded by, both at home and in a learning environment. How does your cultural heritage and environment influence you? Let us know and post a comment below!

Don’t forget! You’re invited to the 2013 National Student Poets Program Appointment Ceremony at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. on September 22nd at 1:50PM EST! Come and celebrate with us!


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