Lexington Youth Poet Laureate Selected

A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government or institution who is typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. 

There are many levels of Poet Laureates, ranging from Alyssa Gaines (the current national poet laureate) to Crystal Wilkinson (the current Kentucky poet laureate). All poet laureates attempt to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.

Until now, there has never been a youth poet laureate in Kentucky. 

The Youth Poet Laureate Program is an initiative of Urban Word NYC, with partner programs in more than 70 cities, regions, and states across the country including Lexington’s Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. 

Outreach and Volunteer Director of the Carnegie Center, Jamari Turner, said that the Lexington Youth Poet Laureate program is the first youth poet laureate program in Kentucky because they are the first organization to organize it locally. 

According to Turner, the ultimate goal of the program is to celebrate youth at the intersection of artistic excellence and civic engagement.

At the Carnegie Center, we empower people to explore and express their voice through imaginative learning and the literary arts,” she said. “The National Youth Poet Laureate program highlights those at the intersection of civic engagement and artistic excellence. The Carnegie Center lives at that intersection.”

The Carnegie Center made a call for young writers ages 13-18. Young writers all over Lexington submitted three poems, a recording of themselves reading one poem they submitted, personal statements, and resumes to be judged by Wilkinson and Kentucky writers and poets Bernard Clay, Danni Quintos, and Katerina Stoykova. 

Out of all applicants, only 10 individuals were selected to join the Lexington Youth Poet Laureate cohort. All 10 students will work together over the next year to shape the program and build a local legacy. 

“The cohort will create opportunities for young Lexington writers to come together and sharpen their own skills as civically engaged youth and writers in a larger capacity with the Carnegie Center behind them,” Turner said.

Three Dunbar students were selected to be members of the cohort. The judges chose juniors Emily Walsh and Kiran Koul and sophomore Tai Khosravi to join the cohort. 

“The competition sounded really interesting to me,” Koul said. “I had never heard of a Youth Poet Laureate program, and the appeal that it’s the first time they’re doing it just sounded really interesting and something I’d like to be a part of.”

Walsh and Khosravi said they heard about the competition through their creative writing class.

“I heard about the competition in my creative writing class and that they were doing this for the first time,” Khosravi said. “I thought this would be a really cool opportunity and I could really put myself out there.”

“One of Mr. Egan’s former students works at the Carnegie center and came to our class to encourage us to apply,” Walsh said. “I thought it would be worth a shot.”

Applicants of the competition submitted three poems and talked about who they are as a person and what poetry means to them. 

It’s not about what piece you submit, it’s about your qualities as a writer,” Walsh said. “They don’t pick pieces; they pick people.”

Walsh said that her favorite piece she submitted was about how outside pressure affected her, and Koul said that she submitted the pieces she thought best reflected how her writing style changed over time. 

“My first piece I wrote at the end of 9th grade was about a personal experience,” she said. “My second was written last year about current events. The third one was something I’d written this year and it highlighted a style I’ve been exploring recently.”

Khosravi submitted the pieces that mean the most to her.

“One piece was an extended metaphor for grief from my mom’s point of view,” she said. “Another one was a social justice poem, and the last one was different ways to look at a love song.”

Of the 10 students selected to be in the cohort, four finalists were selected. The runners-up of the competition will serve as ambassadors with different leadership roles within the cohort. The Lexington Youth Poet Laureate will lead the cohort.

Dunbar student Tai Khosravi was a finalist in the competition and will serve as an ambassador.

As an ambassador, I’m looking forward to being able to collaborate with other people and getting to be a part of that community”

— Tai Khosravi

“As an ambassador, I’m looking forward to being able to collaborate with other people and getting to be a part of that community,” she said. 

The four finalists of the competition performed at the Carnegie Center commencement ceremony where the winner was also announced. 

“We [the four finalists] went to the ceremony, got ready for half an hour, then went to the stage,” Khosravi said. “Jamari Turner gave an introductory speech, then I read two of my pieces in front of the audience there and the judges. They announced the winner at the end of the event.”

FCPS student, Kiitan Adedeji, is the official first Lexington Youth Poet Laureate.

The Lexington Youth Poet Laureate position comes with a number of personal and professional development opportunities and speaking engagements, as well as the opportunity to compete for the role of National Youth Poet Laureate.