This year, Berkeley Public Library (BPL) announced the first ever Berkeley Youth Poet Laureate Program, which was started by a committee of eight Berkeley Public Library staff in late 2022. The program aims to elevate the voices of Berkeley’s youth through poetry and provide a chance for youth to explore their civil voices. The Berkeley Youth Poet Laureate and Vice Laureate will serve for the calendar year of 2024 and have the opportunity to perform at different library and city functions, lead a community artwork project, and participate in several writing workshops.
“We wanted to form a community of writers. Everyone who applies will be invited to workshops throughout the year,” said Robyn Brown, teen librarian at the North Branch Library. “I think our sense of community and creative outlet for teens is kind of why we wanted to form it.”
Berkeley High School students are among the people who are applying to be Berkeley’s next Youth Poet Laureate.
“I think (the Youth Poet Laureate program) is a really good opportunity for students to engage creatively in writing,” said Amanda Daly, an English teacher in Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS). “This is a really great outlet for them to express the kind of things that they feel are important out in the world and have a direct connection to their audience, to their larger community of Berkeley High.”
Julia Segre, a junior in Academic Choice (AC), served as the Alameda County Vice Poet Laureate during 2022-23 and is considering applying to be this year’s Berkeley Youth Poet Laureate.
For Segre, having the title of Vice Poet Laureate was important because it exposed her to more opportunities to use poetry as a method of implementing change. The position of Vice Poet Laureate was also important to her because it introduced her to many people who could refine her poetry skills.
For others, poetry is a form of emotional expression.
“I started writing poetry because someone I knew wrote poetry and it inspired me,” said Lincoln Roan, a senior in CAS and a student who applied to the BPL Youth Poet Laureate program. “I feel when you share writing that’s coming from your heart and your lived experiences, people can find relatability in that. And they can also find, ‘oh my god, this is a way that I can express how I’m feeling.’ It’s an emotional outlet, which is a very important thing to have in your life.”
For Azaria Stauffer-Barney, a junior in Berkeley International High School and a student who is applying to the BPL Youth Poet Laureate Program, poetry is a way to get your emotions out into the world and challenge people to write and think about the world more critically. Stauffer-Barney also sees that the Youth Poet Laureate program could spark ideas for new poems that she could write.
“Poetry has always really been connected to the feelings that we have not only within ourselves, but out in the world,” said Daly. “Poetry, the exploration of poetry, the writing of poetry, the sharing of poetry, gets to a lot of issues that are current, gets to experiences we’ve gone through. Poetry allows for a lot of different access points to talk about those things that we have experienced every single day.”
For Roan, the Youth Poet Laureate program has him thinking more about poetry and having it be more present in his life.
“(It) makes me write more because I rarely will actually crank out a full poem. Because I don’t write over the course of a week, when I write a poem,” said Roan. “I write it in one sitting and the sad truth is that I am better at writing poetry when my life sucks more.”
According to Terry Taplin, current judge for the BPL Youth Poet Laureate Program and Berkeley City Council member for District Two, it’s important that creative people and poets see themselves as worthy of taking on community leadership positions, either within politics, government, or community.
“I’m hoping that this program will inspire young people, not just to write poetry, but also to address these social issues through poetry and engage in political discourse and social discourse in that way,” Taplin said.