But Gorman is just one of many young poets eager to share their work and inspire others. Faye Harrison, Alexandra Huynh, Serena Yang and Alora Young are the finalists in this year’s National Youth Poet Laureate program. They’re also judges in the KidsPost Poetry Contest. (Entries are due March 22 at wapo.st/kidspostpoetry2021.) We wanted to learn about how they became poets and what advice they have for kids. Huynh, Yang and Young were able to meet recently on Zoom to share their thoughts.
All three mentioned that writing became a way of expressing their feelings early in elementary school. But they didn’t necessarily intend to write poetry.
“I realized that the first poetry I ever wrote was in the form of song. I think I started when I was in first or second grade. . . . I loved Hannah Montana, and I wanted to be like Hannah Montana,” Huynh says of Miley Cyrus’s Disney Channel character.
Both were California girls, but unlike brash Hannah, Huynh was shy. She thought that adults expected her to struggle with English because she learned Vietnamese first.
“So the combination of being extremely introverted, but then also not being seen as someone who could dominate language, motivated me to really use it as a way to express my truth and make a place for myself,” says Huynh, who is 18. “Being able to perform songs or poems for people made me feel I had value.”
Yang, whose family moved from Singapore to New York when she was in first grade, says she was embarrassed about her foreign accent. She spent a lot of time writing.
“I remember in second grade, I didn’t have any friends. I was a very lonely child, and I became very close to my second-grade teacher,” she says. “She would write things in my writing notebook, like ‘Serena, you’re going to be a great writer one day.’ ”
Yang still has that notebook, and the 19-year-old recently realized that her earliest writings were poems.
Young remembers writing her first poem at age 7 to express how she felt about her family moving.
“I moved to Nashville [Tennessee] from New Jersey, and I was really mad about that. So I wrote a poem called ‘Stars of Sorrow See You Tomorrow,’ ” she says, laughing.
That poem, and every other she wrote, were intended for an audience.
“I would write poems down, but my poems were written to be performed in front of my family,” Young says. “So it had been actually very difficult learning how to write poems for the page.”
In middle school, an experience with bullying led her to perform poetry outside home and school.
“That’s why I started doing competitions . . . to find friends because I didn’t have any,” she says.
Huynh and Yang didn’t start performing poetry until they were in high school.
Yang attended an Urban Word NYC poetry slam as a junior, ready to “chicken out” but ultimately performing.
“The energy in the room was so infectious and so supportive. . . . I felt that anything was possible,” she says.
The Urban Word community helped Yang consider herself a poet. She encourages kids not to wait until high school to think of themselves that way. And, she says, don’t worry about the “rules.” “If you follow what your heart tells you, really there are no rules in poetry.”
Find out about the D.C. Youth Poet Laureate Program at the Words, Beats & Life website, wblinc.org/dcypl.