Class of 2016 National Student Poets outside of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery where they read their original persona poems

Class of 2016 National Student Poets outside of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery where they held their inaugural public reading

On September 8, the Class of 2016 National Student Poets were honored in an appointment ceremony at the White House, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. After the ceremony, the students gave their first public reading at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Each Student Poet read an original persona poem inspired by a work of art from museums in their hometowns: the Baltimore Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Dallas Museum of Art.

Here are the artworks and the poems in their entirety.

Joey Reisberg, “Poem as Nuanced Veil”

Inspired by Nuanced Veil by Joyce J. Scott currently on exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art in Baltimore, MD

Nuanced Veil by Joyce J Scott

Nuanced Veil by Joyce J. Scott

which of course begs the question “what do you / obscure?” star smatter, coiled capillary,
vortex fist / clenching a single flower. beaded blue-black beetle skin. / we did not coalesce–
rather, we emerged as one, crusted like a scab / on the open wound of another world. a caul
of semi-perceptible human figures, eyebrow suggestion, / nose curving into being from the beads
knocking together as teeth / as wind through spiderweb, breath fluttering between woven ribcage.

to be nuanced / gets you about as far as the last signpost into mere function. / we have buckled under

many roles: amniotic sac, wedding / veil, shroud. always the intricate jewels arranged into paper cut-outs. (our favorite task glueing / eyelids shut, projecting dreams against the plushy bloody velvet.) envoys from chaos, where being incomprehensible / is means of camouflage. broken at birth, we always find / ourselves stitched together again at land’s end. luminous membrane around a tiny pearl.

Maya Salameh, “the standing nude as an island unto herself”

Inspired by Two Standing Nudes by Gustav Klimt currently on exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art in San Diego, CA

Two Standing Nudes by Gustav Klimt

Two Standing Nudes by Gustav Klimt

the standing nude as an island unto herself //
you may buy my body
between these walls that could only be seen as shoddy
you can buy my kisses
they’re nothing anyone misses
you could buy my embrace
tender enough as to leave nary a trace but for those you chase
but you cannot buy the arch of my spine
that grace which is utterly mine
you cannot buy the curve of my waist
or even hope for a taste
you cannot buy the crook of my neck
no matter the size of your check
the line of my lips
the dance in my hips
the bow of my breasts
only ever cordial to guests
the whorl of my fingertips
no matter your apprenticeships
the silhouette of my upset
the cadence of my regret
the ripples of my breathing
will all leave you, feeling
my pieces may be bought
but my inner palace of the finest thoughts is wrought
and no matter where your gaze darts
i am and remain more than the sum of my parts
and no matter how hungry, no matter how lonely
the cavern of my mind is a grotto reserved for nonpaying customers only

Stella Binion, “Hung”

Inspired by Small Pin-Up (Fingerwag) by Kerry James Marshall currently on exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, IL

Small Pin-Up (Fingerwag) by Kerry James Marshall

Small Pin-Up (Fingerwag) by Kerry James Marshall

I, all frame and acrylic on PVC panel, see
a reflection:
a brown skin-sculpted girl figure,
all pen and pad and ash-kneed.
she a strong standing thing
and looks like she belongs
when she doesn’t.

I’ve grown so tired
looking at the white wall and
the one to the right of it,
I can barely see all the black
in the faces
in the paintings
when so many white-cheeked jaws
hung open
face up at them
hung on the wall.
sometimes I see peached lips form
the words
beauty  confident          refuses objectification
stolen from a side description.
I wish I could word back
but no              it doesn’t feel like it
maybe even                 lie.
I was made statement on canvas but
wasn’t made to speak one.

I recently began looking down
toward the grey granite floor,
shiny
shows reflection,
to let myself shame
to avoid a white gaze
to learn me from such a high slant angle,
see my black pigment
on bare skin
belly     thigh    collarbone       shoulder
hugged by lace bra
black on black, patterned acrylic,
outseen by gold
hung hoops
and index finger up, wagging.
sometimes I feel upper arm ache
even though brush stroke-brought
still.
I wish it would lower.
I wish pursed lips and
don’t-come-near eyes could
loosen.
wish until know that then
white would feel
more welcome and be
more near
in a space that was built for
the absence of color.
I mean,
look at the walls.
wish until a reflection,
still
strong-standing,
eyes stare at my still black
and they salt water fill
and body, happy, breathes
for when else will she ever see herself
quite this way,
all frame and acrylic on PVC panel
all black woman
hung on a white wall
staring back.
she will feel like she belongs
even when she doesn’t.
she will see confidence and beauty
even if just narrative
even if to prove a point.

I wish I could look at
the other black-bound eyes,
hung across and next to me,
the same way
I do hers.
wish
when our painter Papa
comes from Bronzeville to visit
mine could meet his
and not
hang in shame.

Maya Eashwaran, “Remnants”

Inspired by Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle currently on exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA

Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle

to my younger self:

listen, child/maya/maya/maya-
hold the earth in your palms like it
was something sacred/ like how you used to/
when life was a cardboard paper recollection of
cereal boxes and stuffed animals/Cheerios and salt
water taffy/pulled and pulling, stretched and
rubber banded, taut/like sea stars and melted chocolate
saturdays/like beaded raindrops swarming car windows
like fireflies/like months spooling around your legs like grass/
know that childhood was just the opening act to life/
that this curtain can only close like a tide/listen, child/
know that childhood embeds truth in everything beautiful,
lilac mountains and purple sunrises, everything
wondrous/ truthful/listen, child/I am a bear, disguised as a
soothsayer/ I am everything you forgot about growing up,
like dragonflies hovering over the neighborhood pool,
like table tennis and maggi noodle sundays/like
remembering/and remembering/ and remembering/
the hiss of boiling water and tea, cashews and
cartoon characters/the way life followed a rhythm
we could only hear after the sountrack stops/
listen, child/I wish I could take you back in time to
when the only chant you knew was brown bear,
brown bear/when the only truth you knew was
kindness/diluted independence and mismatched
socks, turning the light in your room/on/off/on/off/
know that light is just a precursor to magic/
this is the only truth I know/ listen child/
I am everything
you left behind.

Gopal Raman, “frosen”

Inspired by Miss Blanche by Shiro Kuramata currently on exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, TX

Miss Blanche by Shiro Kuramata

Miss Blanche by Shiro Kuramata

the skies freeze
into clean-cut glass
along my back. the

little prince’s rose
sleeps in my arm
(the scarlet drinks

the starlight). a crisp
formaldehyde clutch
fills my curves with

cutting grace. there
is no marbled elegance to
my beauty. i shine in the

dark like gloss on matte,
like shadow on stucco.
a firmament rests on my

amethyst legs, and i magnify
the ground for the stars. my
life burns on with deathly

perfection. my roses were weaned
on knife-edge glass and molten
sand. there was no damp dirt to

bloat the petals with love. my
roses are beautiful, but just
beautiful enough.

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