In January 2020, Alondra Bobadilla was selected as Boston’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate, and in February 2022, Anjalequa Birkett was selected as the second. James Bennett II, GBH arts and culture reporter, joined Morning Edition hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel on to discuss the event honoring the outgoing poet laureate at the Boston Public Library and welcoming the new one. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
James Bennett II: She [Birkett] is a very personal poet. One of the poems was called “The Day Before Thanksgiving,” where she talks about her mother’s “tender, loving hands” that prepares the meal and she kind of takes us to that table and imparts that sense of familial love on to this listening audience. . So her words from her kind of wrap you and take you to where she is. She doesn’t meet you where you are.
Paris Alston: How did the city mark the transition from the first ever Youth Poet Laureate to the second? And she read some poetry at the event at the Boston Public Library, right? Was there anything that really stood out?
Bennett: It was cool, she read from her published book, which is one of the projects that the youth poet laureate takes on. But she also read a couple of poems off her phone from her, which almost gave us the vibe of “I am a poet, I’m a creator here, so I kind of do my thing.” She would give the time and the day of what she wrote it.
So I talked to both of them after the event and one thing that I wanted to ask Alondra as she’s on her way out as the first youth poet laureate, I wanted to know what she learned about herself or what she would tell herself coming into this role and what she would tell future youth poet laureates that are stepping into this role. Here’s what she had to say.
Be authentic, to not lose themselves in the sauce and lose themselves and, you know, people pulling them every which way. It’s very easy for people to see potential, and they want to kind of like juice it out and we have to remember what we’re putting our energy into and pick and choose like, where do I want to put my energy? Where do I want to put my life, my potential, my passions and my gifts? Just because we’re young does not mean that people have the right to kind of like, pimp us out a little bit and take us everywhere that they want us to be. We have the right to be like, this is where I want to put my potential and my skills and my assets.
Alston: And what about Anjalequa?
Bennett: To her I wanted to ask, what’s the point of a youth poet laureate when the city already has a senior poet laureate, Porsha Olayiwola? And she was really zeroed in on the idea that art could convey messages from the youth that I guess older people just wouldn’t get. Here’s what she told me.
Sometimes that extra spark of metaphor or simile or that extra bar can really resonate with people, and it really makes them think in a sense of that’s not as, quote unquote, complicated as poetry, but as simple as opening their eyes to what we see .
Sigel: So she’s talking about the new generation there, but Boston does have a senior poet laureate who you were mentioning. How does this position sort of interact with that other one?
Bennett: So Porsha actually talked about this a little bit during her remarks, how she grew up in Chicago and kind of got her start. One thing that she did as the city’s poet laureate, she wanted to create this platform, not a shadow position, but as a complementary position to the senior office to give these youth voices a chance, give them a platform, give them compensation, you know, for the work — they’re getting a $2,000 annual stipend and the chance to publish their own original work.
Alston: We’re going to end on the voice of the outgoing youth poet laureate, Alondra Bobadilla, reading her work “617.”
Welcome to the 617
Let me give you a tour
Let me show you all the places everybody loves
Let me take you to the hills as a beacon of light with colonial streaks that illuminate in the night
Let me drive you to DT where street crosses street
Memories line up the walls from McD’s to Macy’s
I see myself running through the park, skating under the stars
Home to every big name school you can think of where legends sat in those lecture seats, finding the knowledge, applying the wisdom which is out in the world for all to see
They found that right here in the Bean, my city, where my heart will always live and breathe
From the Charles to Fenway Park, I know I’m home when I see the Citgo sign up and bright as night, red against white
But as I ride on the bus, I’m in the passenger seat of my mother’s car
Sometimes I seem to forget where we are
Big buildings block my view, condos that I will never afford are like a looming threat
I see faces I’ve never seen walking down dangerous streets with bright smiles as if they don’t live besides poor mothers and fathers struggling to make ends meet
Yeah, right beside their side lives a young couple or a college student that doesn’t know this city like they do, living in a luxury apartment that they only dream to move into with the five children that they can barely feed and the children’s lips only know one word: hungry
I see new people coming, streaming like the waves of the sea, and I don’t mean no disrespect
She’s kind of weird, you see, my momma always tells me, don’t walk around certain places and always watch your back
And I see these women with their kids playing on fields I’m banned from walking aimlessly down people streets got shot on, walking past walls where memorials once lived
Walking through the hood like it’s a tourist attraction, like the red bricks are a forest and its dwellers are savages
Welcome to the 617
Let me give you a tour
Let me show you the real Boston, the one I barely know anymore
Let me take you to the rare hills, the mission I love
Where my teachers grew up and they saw their friends dropped like dimes because someone pulls out a knife and they live with PTSD