Inaugural National Student Poet and Northeast Representative, Claire Lee, returns to the AYAW blog to interview the 2013 Class of National Student Poets for her “Poets on Poets” series.
This week’s interview is with National Student Poet and Southwast Representative, Louis Lafair!
Claire Lee: Hey Louis! How’s your summer been? What have you been up to this summer, in terms of NSPP summer events?
Louis Lafair: Hi Claire! I’ve had a great summer! It’s been a nice transitional period between high school and college, a chance to hang out with friends before we head in different directions, and an awesome way to wrap up my NSPP year. It’s been full of poetry—I actually just released a website called poetry2point0.com that compiles all sorts of “new ways to experience poetry in the 21st century.” Coinciding with the site’s launch, I did a webinar with National Writing Project, along with Lisa New, Jeremy Dean, and Sarah Kay! And I recently returned from two workshops in Arizona.
CL: Wow, that sounds like a lot of cool things going on this summer! Speaking of which, what were some of the major NSPP events you participated in? Which was your favorite, and why?
LL: One of the many amazing elements of the program is the mix of local and national events. On the local level, we got to design our own service projects, reaching communities close to home. (I loved, for instance, speaking at the Texas Council for Teachers of English and Language Arts, where I was able to share how much teachers have meant to me on my own journey.) On top of that, we got to participate in events like the National Book Festival in D.C. and the Poets Forum in NYC, becoming part of a national poetry-loving and poetry-spreading community. Each event was so special in its own way, but I’ll go ahead and talk about the Aspen Ideas Festival, our last national event (in June). Along with Todd Breyfogle, Damian Woetzel, and some incredible slam poets from Young Chicago Authors, we read texts by a range of individuals (from Aristotle to Adichie to MLK) and participated in a series of seminars discussing what it means to be poets, what it means to be humans, and what our roles are as members of society. The conversations were fascinating, and in many ways were the perfect culmination of all of our events, workshops, and service projects up to that point. We delved into “the danger of a single story,” and into how part of poetry’s beauty is its ability to tell so many stories from so many different perspectives, helping people pause and consider the complex, varied nature of the stories of everyone they pass by on a given day.
CL: What was the highlight of your year as a National Student Poet?
LL: The highlight was definitely the people. Everyone from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Service, and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers has been so supportive throughout the journey. Feels almost as though we’re one large family (can’t wait for the next class of poets to join!). And of course, Sojourner, Michaela, Nathan, and Aline are absolutely amazing—I love them all. Rarely have I seen such strong friendships establish so quickly from such a distance… But we’ve managed to keep our year-long conversations going from five corners of the country. I’m so lucky to know each of them.
CL: What was one way in which your year as a National Student Poet changed you? In other words, what was the biggest takeaway for you?
LL: At the beginning of the year, I spent a lot of time wondering how to reach as many people as possible, which this program definitely helps do with a poet from each region. I’ve also come to terms with the fact, though, that it’s impossible to reach everyone. I’ve realized that what matters is reaching individuals. If, over the course of the past year, I’ve helped at least one person fall in love with poetry, then I can call the year a success. That mindset has made me look at poetry itself differently. A given poem isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but hopefully each poem I write will mean a lot to at least one person out there who needs it, and that’s all that matters.
CL: That can definitely be a challenge, and speaking of challenges—what was the biggest challenge for you this year?
LL: Managing time was somewhat challenging (especially during April, National Poetry Month) since I wanted to do as much as possible, but also had to balance between school and other obligations. Then again, I like being busy, so the limited time was a nice challenge.
CL: If you could go back and change or do-over one thing about your year as a National Student Poet, what would it be and why?
LL: I don’t know if I would change anything. It was such an incredible experience. I like to think that it’s not actually over—I’m looking forward to seeing all of the ways poetry stays in my life in the years to come.
CL: Last, but not least—it’s summer! What are you currently reading? Do you have any fun summer recommendation books?
LL: I recently finished My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. I’m currently reading No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay. And I also just started S., a cool, metafictional book conceived by J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. (Check that one out!)
CL: Hmm, any last thoughts you want to share?
LL: Life takes you on crazy journeys. (I never expected a poetry submission would lead to all of this. Any high school student should definitely submit to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. You never know what will happen!) Ultimately, though, it’s the people that are the most important element of any journey, and that have made this one so special. I’d love to take a moment to thank them—fellow poets, partners, supporters, family members—one more time.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers partner 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.