The Nashville Youth Poet Laureate program identifies student writers and poets ages 13 to 19 who demonstrate exceptional skill and a commitment to their community. Students first complete a written application; those advancing to the next round give two performances where they are judged on their delivery, poise, and the content of their poems. Three finalists then compete for the title of Nashville Youth Poet Laureate. The winning poet is seen as an ambassador for youth voices in Nashville and is given the opportunity to perform in highly visible spaces.
Marie Shields was selected as Nashville’s Youth Poet Laureate for 2020. The Overton High School senior plans to double major in aerospace engineering and physics. Her poem “2020” was inspired by “Spotify Wrapped,” a data-driven recap of all the music streamed over the course of a year. Shield’s poem recounts a stream of personal moments from 2020, some of them painful. There are bad dates, relentless cold-call emails, the drudgery of filling out scholarship applications. Yet despite emphasizing the repetitiveness of mundane situations, “2020” is also infused with levity, hope and resilience.
Resilience is also required to administer the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate program. It is a large undertaking requiring collaboration between many entities. Southern Word, a nonprofit focused on developing youth poets, works with the Nashville mayor’s office, Urban Word, the Nashville Public Library, Metro Arts and Metro Nashville Public Schools to make this happen. But according to Benjamin Smith of Southern Word, the impact the program has on local youth is well worth it. “Poetry fits in our world today by really grounding us in our shared humanity,” Smith says. “We’re addressing written literacy, we are addressing a lot of diversity issues, and we are developing social emotional skills.”
For more information on the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate program, including how to apply, visit: https://southernword.org/