The following is a guest post by National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson. This is the third in a series of bimonthly blog posts that Kara will be writing during her laureateship this year.
Happy Libra season everyone! October is my favorite month. I love the way fall forces us to live with change. It’s remarkable how the color of a leaf can make us consider time. To think it’s October already!
This month I exit my teenagehood and enter the tower of my twenties. It feels strange leaving my teenage years behind. I feel attached to this age, like a wet blankie I’ve balanced over my shoulder for as long as I can remember. There’s something exciting about 20, though. There’s something very moving about making it this far. As I think about my laureateship, there are so many things I never imagined I could accomplish, and making it to 20 feels like one of those things. There was always something very abstract about this decade. I never understood how I could grow into my dimples, how my head could start to feel correct on my neck. I never thought I’d grow to like eating alone, claiming my own booth in the vegan dining hall.
The weirdest part about turning 20 is the fact that this is my first time celebrating my birthday away from home. I’ve already been at Smith College for a month. This botanical garden is starting to feel like home. I return to my dorm room at the end of the day, and the room smells like my own making. I’m finally starting to navigate the poetry scene here in Northampton. Last month, Terrance Hayes read at the Poetry Center here at Smith. I attended a dinner with Terrance beforehand, alongside some of my peers who are also poets. The reading lengthened my love for language. Sitting inside Terrance’s poems, I was reminded of the purpose of poetry: to really distill your life into something to be shared. It was refreshing to feel this familiar feeling in a place so unfamiliar. Poems are so grounding in this way, providing homes where there are none, proving places worthy as homes. There have also been some readings at the nearby campuses. The poetry community here has definitely ushered me into adjustment.
Although Smith is starting to feel like home, it was nice to get away for a while to attend the Youth Poet Laureate writing retreat. I met with the cohort of poets in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I have never been to a place so remote, so beautiful. Cape Cod has only ever been a whisper, a lyric in an indie rock song. The island felt like fiction floating. The town looked like it had been extracted from an independent film, with tiny streets and wooden signs. The beach felt so sacred and full of solace. When I walked along the water, I was in a trance. I saved the shards of shells, swooned by their color. This trip taught me the importance of getting away, of stepping back. Sometimes our craft requires a change in scenery, in location. Sometimes our poems have wandered far away from us, and we must collect them as we conquer a new place.
We wrote poems with Mahogany Browne in this amazing art space. It was my first time sitting down to write in such a structured way in a great while, and I was grateful for the pace of her workshop, the thrill of it. I came up with the crumbs of what could be some interesting poems, and got to experience the wonderful minds of my peers, who I had seen for the first time in months. At the center of the trip was love, a language echoed so effortless among us. These poets are always as loving as they are lyrical. It was a pleasure to share 72 hours with them, but I long for a time where we are allowed more time together. Poetry is personal but it relies on community, and this trip reaffirmed that truth for me.
As October revs up, I am looking forward to some more opportunities as youth poet laureate. The writing retreat has me feeling inspired and committed to my work as an artist, and as a being that’s constantly becoming something else. I can’t wait to see what fall brings, and to get the most out of Libra season!