Five poems by local students will be featured on 225 city buses this fall in an effort by the Sacramento Poetry Center, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and 916 Ink to highlight the talent of youth in our city.
This year’s selection of youth poems is a follow up to last year’s featuring of poems written by adults. The display of youth prose to be read by thousands offers a particularly unique reminder to residents about the art of poetry.
“It’s important to realize that if we think about what keeps an art alive or what makes it fresh, it’s young people,” said Sacramento Poetry Center President, Bob Stanley, in an explanation of why they chose youth poems this year. “If young people are writing poetry, whether it’s an angry rant or a depressed love poem or a celebration of something good, it’s important for humans to write poetry…it’s important for kids to have a voice, to have a chance [to be heard].”
Empowering young people to find their voice is one of the primary goals of 916 Ink, a nonprofit that offers creative writing classes to Sacramento students and the provider of the 40 or so poems from which the five were selected.
Founding Executive Director, Katie McCleary, said that by using writing to help students find their authentic voice, they are in turn endowed with the ability to be the authors of their own lives. And when adults get the chance to see youth words expressed, it has the potential to impact people in an even bigger way than reading adult poems.
“We have this perception that young people are helpless, that they go to school, that they can’t really do a whole lot for themselves,” explained McCleary. “So I think when we see a young person elevated or see them take action…that inspires people.”
Inspiring personal action and self-confidence is the outstanding theme of selected author Syrai Harris’ poem “Hero”. The poem speaks of the importance of being your own hero.
“People always say girls can’t do this, girls can’t do that, and so I was saying in this piece ‘Hey, I am a hero!’” said Harris, a 9th grade student at West Campus High School. “You have yourself. Yes, other people help you. Yes, other people build you up. But it’s all about what you can do for yourself.”
Two of the poems selected were by students of Visions In Education Charter School. Lydia Robles’ “Harmonize” speaks of the power of two individual voices coming together as one. Maribella Smith took an illustrative and imaginative approach to her poem, “One & Only”, which was inspired by a story she heard at SummerWords, a creative writing festival at American River College. Smith says writing is an outlet for words that would otherwise be gnawing at her thoughts.
“I have a bunch of jumbled words in my head a lot of times so it’s nice to put them on paper and make them something that’s beautiful,” said Smith.
Smith has aspirations to take what she’s learned about character development to explore the world of acting. Harris is interested in political writing.
Stanley says he hopes the poems turn something that can have a rap for being a thing that needs to be analyzed into something in which people identify with and view as an expression of thought pushing us to think about why we’re here and what the purpose of art and writing is.
In the same spirit, McCleary introspectively offered what writing and poetry can remind us to consider.
“There’s an immense amount of opportunity [for all of us] to do things,” she said. “And to do something meaningful.”
The other two poems to be featured on RT buses are “Crumbs” by Michael Halley and “Heavy Black Ink” by Viola Weinberg.
A reception to celebrate the poets’ work was held earlier this month at the 916 Ink Imaginarium. The poems will be on display on buses through January 2017.
Photos by Bethany Harris