“The Youth Laureate Letters”: Summer Endings and New Beginnings

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

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

August is really a mouth that scarfs down the rest of the summer. I feel like everything has flown by so quickly, like the days are relay-racing around me. The summer must end, but for me this month brings a lot of beginnings. I am getting ready to leave for school and start my freshman year at Smith College. While I’ve been excitedly planning and packing, I’ve also been making room for poetry.

At the end of July, I had the great pleasure of interviewing poet, playwright and educator Elizabeth Alexander for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. We talked about the relationship between poetry and education, Alexander’s own introduction to poetry, and the codependency between imagination and liberation. It was a striking conversation filled with so much truth. It was also nice to hear that Alexander had spent some time teaching at Smith, as she gave me advice on different resources I can use while I’m there. I am always grateful for the way that older poets approach me with care, but also respect my present capabilities. Interactions like this one make me confident in the way I will handle the youth when it is my turn to rise out of adolescence.

Despite the hectic nature of my August, it seems like a lull in comparison to the briskness of July. Last month had the pace of a bullet, but it was one of the most fulfilling months I’ve had in a while, and a great way to end my time here in the Midwest. In July I had the chance to open for my dear friend Kaina at a sold out show at Lincoln Hall, have my first So Far Sounds show, and perform at Soho Chicago and Ace Hotel. July also marked the Pitchfork Music Festival. There, I read poems at the Book Fort. I also cried watching a lot of my dear friends take the big stage, like Tasha, who played a beautiful set and even made the sky cry. Even though it was 100 degrees outside, nothing was warmer at Pitchfork than my heart. I feel so inspired by the amount of Chicago talent represented at the festival this year, from Tasha, to Ric Wilson, to Lala Lala.

While there are so many things going on this month, this is also a month thick with mourning. To think we lost Toni Morrison! I am in such disbelief. This month, we watch a hero hurry to heaven. Toni Morrison is an ancestor now, and I believe the world has lots of changing to do with her pulling the strings. Toni Morrison taught me that if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it. She taught me that my job is to empower somebody else, that this world is not a grab-bag candy game. Ms. Morrison taught me thin love isn’t love at all, that love has no reason except that it is god. My heart is heavy with grief, but what a life she lived! I am lucky to be a  consequence of her writing and her words. How rare it is for a writer to be so loved by all, so responsible for many.

As August makes its march and we reestablish our schedules, I am excited for what the school year will bring. My last event in Chicago will be a farewell party, where I will read and sing with all my friends. Though it’s fare thee well to Chicago for now, I know I will be back in a blink. Massachusetts here I come!

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