The National Student Poets Class of 2014’s year of service is coming to an end—although it feels like just yesterday that they met in Washington, D.C. for their appointment events at the White House, where they read their work for the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Somehow, the months in their year of service flew by, past the Dodge Poetry Festival in October and National Poetry Month events throughout April. But there was a brief pause for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Events in NYC at the beginning of June, followed swiftly by an amazing stop in Aspen, Colorado, for the Aspen Ideas Festival.
It would be an understatement to say the National Student Poets’ June was jam-packed with poetry. While they were in NYC, the Class of 2014 participated in a panel on poetry and youth at Scholastic Inc., facilitated by Scholastic’s Vice President, Executive Editor, and New York Times bestselling author Andrea Davis Pinkney—who, committed to the theme, kicked off the discussion with a haiku! Afterward, the poets headed uptown to attend the Scholastic Awards National Ceremony, where they were celebrated onstage at Carnegie Hall after a moving reading of their work by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Vijay Seshadri. The next morning, all five poets rose early to conduct a reading and workshops with third and fourth graders studying at the Harlem Academy, where the young students were inquisitive, creative, and all-around inspiring. And there was even more to come! The 2014 Poets also read during an open mic with fellow teen writers and Scholastic Awards recipients, then hopped the train back to Scholastic for a one-on-five, three-hour workshop with Poetry Editor of the New Yorker, Paul Muldoon.
With only a few days to catch their breath back home in their five respective regions, the Class of 2014 National Student Poets were soon back in the air, this time traveling to Aspen, Colorado for their participation in the Aspen Ideas Festival where they met up with fellow poets from Young Chicago Authors. Their participation in the events lasted from June 26 through July 1 and began with an intensive poetry seminar for the teen poets—complete with readings, workshops, and writing a renga together—culminating in an open mic night. Of this experience, Cameron Messinides wrote: “The open mic for the student poets was very memorable for me. Hearing everyone’s work, some of it for the first time in the case of the Young Chicago Authors, was absolutely wonderful. The few times we’ve shared the stage with spoken word poets, their energy and voice always manage to body their way into what I read and give it a force that’s usually difficult to find. This time, too, their words gave me courage. I read a poem I’ve never read publicly before and got a great response. It was a breathtaking, important night with a lot of us reading words that felt significant, powerful, and necessary.”
When it came to the Aspen Ideas Festival itself, the sessions had a profound impact on the National Student Poets, prompting Ashley Gong to write that “the discussion with Elizabeth Alexander brought up many great tips on improving the writing process. Her tips (1. Be able to write wherever you are, 2. Go with your antenna 24/7, and 3. Read more poems to write better poems) struck a chord with me and recently inspired me to pick up some works by Elizabeth Bishop and C.A. Conrad, as I usually don’t read too many classical authors.”
“I was definitely inspired to examine why, for who, and for what cause I’m writing,” Julia Falkner wrote. “Being conscious and aware of this has given me a lot of new focus and breathed a lot of life into the craft of writing for me, and I’m so fascinated to see what happens to me as a writer after asking all of these new intriguing and beautiful questions.”
During the rest of the summer, the National Student Poets Class of 2014 will continue their work on their community service projects within their regions: Julia Falkner with LGBT+ youth; Ashley Gong with the residents of Newtown, Connecticut; Weston Clark with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa community in North Dakota; Cameron Messinides with underserved/at-risk boys; and Madeleine LeCesne with recapturing lost homes through poetry in her hometown of New Orleans. Congratulations to the Class of 2014 for a tremendous year. Once a National Student Poet, always a National Student Poet—and the journey is only just beginning!