The publics poet

The publics poet

Poetry is an art form created in solitary. Sure, muses are necessary, but writing poetry requires more introspection than a session with Freud. In fact, it can be considered a form of therapy, it is so personal.

The concept of a poet laureate therefore seems counterintuitive. A poet for the public? Images of reading private diary passages into a microphone come to mind. 

But Alexandria has one. Her name is Amy Young and she replaced Mary McElveen, the citys second poet laureate, on Tuesday.
Young begins her three-year tenure unabashed by the disconnect between the quintessential modest poet and the very public, well, public.

I know that it sort of goes against my most natural instincts, but I also see myself as a leader in a lot of situations so I think it creates a healthy tension for myself as the poet laureate, Young said Tuesday.

So what exactly does a poet laureate do? Its somewhat vague: The role of the citys Poet Laureate is to promote appreciation of poetry as an art form; to encourage creative writing and reading of all forms of literature; and to promote literacy through poetry, according to the City Council.

McElveen has several stanzas of poetic deeds listed from her three-year term, ranging from workshops at Alexandria schools to reading at the German Embassy. She received more out of her appointment than she ever imagined, McElveen said.

Young, 47, can be creative with how she achieves those goals. It shouldnt be too hard for her, though. As a creative writing teacher at The Lab School of Washington, she knows how to generate ideas.

I think everybody has this idea that a poet laureates basically writes poems for occasions, Young said. I feel like thats certainly a part of the role, but I really feel that theres much more of a social activism role that can be brought to bare, and thats what Im really excited about.

The new poet laureate fears she has more ideas than Ill ever be able to actually bring into fruition, and her top three are well defined. 

Young wants to reach out to the non-English speaking community in the city through writing and teach writing workshops to adults with learning disabilities and disadvantaged backgrounds.

As a writer and student at T.C. Williams High School who likes slam poetry, Youngs son inspired her to provide space where teens can write and share poetry with one another.

While slam poetry is certainly sexy for teens, ultimately what theyre really looking for is a place where their voices can be heard and where they can share in a safe environment with each other, she said.

But with all her new civic responsibilities, Young cannot shy away from her own writing, and she now looks around her city through the eyes of the poet laureate, collecting fodder for her new role. 

Anywhere theres green space tucked between the textures of our urban lives, she will find inspiration, she says, and the river always in the river.

Her style is inspired often by Robert Frost and A.A. Milne, but also by her young students, resulting in a playful poetic voice nuanced with nature. That voice will be put to music by an orchestra in two weeks and played at the Smithsonian as part of her new gig. 

In my mind thats almost better than being published because its so exciting to know that something you wrote and created inspired somebody else to write and create something, Young said.

Between her civic-focused approach to poetry and her personal talent, shell be doing the same thing for the next three years.