“The Youth Laureate Letters”: Meet Kara Jackson, 2019 National Youth Poet Laureate

The following is a guest post by National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson. This is the first in a series of bimonthly blog posts that Kara will be writing during her laureateship this year. 

Chicago regional laureate Kara Jackson (right) is named the 2019 National Youth Poet Laureate during a commencement at the Library of Congress, April 4, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Poets give language to everything. In a poet’s mind, there’s a word for each phase of a fruit; a word for the way hair betrays its arrangement. There are so many titles attached to poets, because of our insatiable craving for language. If you would have asked me a couple years ago if I knew what a Youth Poet Laureate was, I would probably shrug. I’ve always known about the great United States Poets Laureate: Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Tracy K. Smith, and Juan Felipe Herrera to name a few. It wasn’t until my senior year that I realized a laureateship could be attached to my name.

On April 4th, I sat on a stage at the Library of Congress, surrounded by some of the best poets I have ever met. To my left sat Haviland Whiting, Azura Tyabji, Jackson Neal, and Maren Wright Kerr. We each sat, legs crossed, each body probably trembling with nerves. I can only speak for my own hands, which wouldn’t stop moving from anxiety. We were waiting to find out who would be named the next National Youth Poet Laureate. But before that, we would each perform. I am still pleasantly haunted by the words of each of my peers. Each poem they read felt like a blade pressed to my face, an undeniable chill across my cheek. When it was my turn to read, I wanted to throw my poems into the crowd, to protest the podium. To think I had to follow such astonishing work! With hesitation, I shuffled my way to the mic.

A couple months later, the entire trip seemed to have happened in rabbit speed. One day we were making breakfast in our Airbnb, and the next we were packing up our things. Still, those short days were probably the greatest sliver of joy I could ask for. Winning never mattered to me. I was never set to collect the title. I wanted to bask in the gleam of the other poets until they dragged me from the Library. The trip was so great, because it really demonstrated the thrill of horizontal success. Instead of being set to win, each one of us poets were instead set to rise together. That sentiment is one that sits in my heart today still, as I embark on my journey as the Laureate.

2019 National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson. Credit: Mercedes Zapata.

Before I get too comfortable with you guys, I wanted to first introduce myself and discuss my goals for my term. My name is Kara Jackson and I am the newest National Youth Poet Laureate! The title never fails to feel weird on my tongue. I have trouble bringing it up with strangers, or letting it pass through my mouth at a dinner party. Yet, it is a title I am growing into with honor and respect. I am so grateful to continue the legacy of Patricia Frazier, the Laureate before me, and Amanda Gorman, the stunning inaugural Youth Poet Laureate.

While it can be assumed that I like to write poems, I am also fond of song writing, essay writing, and the occasional fiction piece. I am a guitarist, a singer, and a passionate tofu-maker. I like to make time for lots of new art, and I hope this title will allow me to consume a lot more by surrounding myself around more artists and performers.

Through this Laureateship, I hope to expand my definition of community. I want to reevaluate the language of safe spaces by creating my own through workshops, events, and online spaces. I want to continue to rise horizontally, to demonstrate the power of groups and building communities. I want my work as Youth Poet Laureate to be as collaborative as possible, while furthering my personal and professional goals. Most importantly, I want to have fun this year.

I am really starting my Laureateship in the most fun way possible, as I write this blog from London, England! I am starting my seventh day here as a part of a Youth Poet Laureate exchange organized by Peter Kahn. Last month, three poets from London came to Chicago to write and perform with us: Aisling Fahey, Caleb Oluwafemi, and Rachel Long. This month, we are here to perform, lead some workshops, and eat a lot of Indian cuisine. So far, we have read poems at the British Library, taught the importance of poetry in an academic setting to teachers from all around the city, and have discovered several different neighborhoods along the way. Yesterday, I got a tattoo (to my mother’s dismay) in East London, and danced to my heart’s content with Patricia Frazier, the former Laureate. This trip was a great way to dive into my term!

As I sign off, I want to thank everyone in advance who will follow me on my journey. I’m not sure of what is to come in the following months, but I am excited to dive in!

2 Comments

  1. Shari Rich
    July 15, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    I am seeking Kara’s contact information to inquire about her availability to speak on our campus. Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.

  2. Anne Holmes
    July 16, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Dear Shari,

    I have submitted your request to Urban Word, the organization that administers the National Youth Poet Laureate program.

    All best,
    Anne

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