The Youth Poetry Ambassadors pose after a day of performances at the Poetry Foundation. Represented are the National Student Poets Program, Young Chicago Authors, Poetry Out Loud, and the Philly Youth Poetry Movement. Photo by George Gong.

In Chicago, on April 2–3, the National Student Poets Class of 2014 convened at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago to kick off National Poetry Month with a Youth Poetry Assembly. The National Student Poets were joined by their peers representing other programs throughout the nation: Poetry Out Loud, Young Chicago Authors, and the Philly Youth Poetry Movement. The performances were electric, as each of the eleven writers, readers, and performers took to the stage to share their poetry with one another and an open audience of poetry lovers.

A film crew from WGBH TV, led by filmmaker David Grubin, was in attendance to record the performances, which will be featured in a televised program currently under development. Mr. Grubin requested that each of the participating poets read Carl Sandburg’s “Skyscaper” on camera in a round-robin. The poets were then interviewed about the poem, and each one offered a different interpretation based on their experiences and background, revealing the scope of poetry’s ability to affect the individual.


The Youth Poetry Ambassadors pause after Terrance Hayes’s workshop to snag a group selfie.

The youth poet advocates and ambassadors in attendance at the Youth & Poetry Conference were:

Weston Clark, Julia Falkner, Ashley Gong, Madeleine LeCesne, and Cameron Messinides from the National Student Poets Program;

Nayo Adanna Alexandria-Jones and Jovan Kalief McKoy from the Philly Youth Poetry Movement;

Rapheal Mathis and Anita Norman from Poetry Out Loud; and

Karlyn Boens and Bailey Champion from Young Chicago Authors.


David Grubin’s film crew is on hand to capture the Youth Poetry Ambassadors reading Carl Sandburg’s poem “Skyscraper”. Photo by George Gong.

Esteemed poet, artist, and MacArthur Fellow Terrance Hayes (recently featured in The New York Times Magazine) gave a lecture on poet Etheridge Knight and the poetry of incarceration, then conducted a workshop with the youth poets on the following morning. At the conclusion of the workshop, the poets shared what they had written with one another in an environment of powerful support and camaraderie. The editor of Poetry magazine, Don Share, also conducted a workshop with the poets and spoke to the importance of personal perspective in poetry. “The more personal detail in a poem,” he said, “the more powerful it will be for the reader.”

The days were packed with poetry, and many poems were written and shared during those windy Chicago days—as were Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook handles. Selfies were taken with Terrance Hayes and with one another, and the young poets had intense discussions not only about the importance of poetry in education and in life, but topics at the dinner table ranged from music recommendations to race, sexuality, and social justice.


The National Student Poets Class of 2014 take a moment to pose in front of an art exhibit at the Poetry Foundation.

The National Student Poets will be making appearances across America this National Poetry Month. Weston Clark will be a featured poet and reader at the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, Iowa, from April 3–4; on April 25, he’s been invited as an honored guest, speaker, and reader at the Indiana State Library Letters About Literature Award Ceremony in Indianapolis, where he will also conduct a youth poetry workshop. On April 15, Ashley Gong will be a special guest reader at the annual Poetry & the Creative Mind in New York City, presented by the Academy of American Poets, the nonprofit organization behind National Poetry Month. On April 16, Ashley will host a reading and workshop in Buffalo, New York, in partnership with Just Buffalo Literary Center; on April 17, in Rochester, New York, Ashley will lead a youth open mic night at Writers & Books, sponsored by literary magazine Canvas.

Cameron Messinides will be a featured reader at South Carolina’s Center for the Book Lunchtime Author Talks April 15 and introduce Ray McManus, author of PunchJulia Falkner will fly to Los Angeles to attend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where she will be introduced on the Poet’s Stage by LA Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez, on April 18, and will read again later that day at An Evening of Poetry at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Madeleine LeCesne was invited by Louisiana State Poet Laureate Ava Leavell Haymon to be a featured poet and reader at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge on April 21. Closing out the month, Madeleine will fly to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the Arkansas Literary Festival, where she will serve as a youth judge and presenter.

To keep up with the National Student Poets, like the official Facebook page.

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