Anjalequa Leynneyah Verona Birkett, an 18-year-old student at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science, was named the City of Boston’s Youth Poet Laureate Feb. 26 by Mayor Michelle Wu and the Mayor’s Office. of arts and culture. Birkett was born and raised in Roxbury before moving to Roslindale, and discovered her passion for poetry through slam and the 826 Writers Room. Like the one in Boston The second poet laureate in youth history, she hopes to empower other young people to express themselves through the arts.
Q: How were you introduced to poetry?
Birket: It’s a bit of a long story, but I can shorten it a bit. I was one of those kids who was struggling in school and missing classes and stuff, and I felt super different and left out. And what made me feel some kind of connection was reading and writing and words, and around second grade I was introduced to Jacqueline Woodson and her books and it really fired me up like “Whoa, I want to write.” Then in eighth grade, I was introduced to my school’s slam team and they inspired me to write poetry.
Q: What was part of your nonprofit work like?
Birket: Yeah, so A-VOYCE [Asian Voices of Organized Youth for Community Empowerment, a youth program that is part of the Asian Community Development Corporation] was a Chinatown-based organization that focused on stopping gentrification in Chinatown and reclaiming that neighborhood, and BARCC is the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. I volunteered there for a year and learned about healthy relationships, how to deal with them, how to deal with toxic relationships and dealing with domestic violence and being an advocate for children my age and younger and even adults.
Q: Would you say that social justice is an important driver for you? How has it been incorporated into some of your poems?
Birket: I have a few posts that I’ve written in particular, like social justice projects or things that stick out in my mind. For BARCC I wrote a poem about domestic violence and for A-VOYCE a poem about gentrification, and I have my other pieces in my arsenal on different issues that I’m very passionate about.
Q: How did you find out about the Young Poet Laureate nomination? How was the process for you?
Birket: So two years ago this was the first time this happened and I heard about it through my school, a guidance counselor emailed to the whole student body, and I was just like, “oh, that’s cool.” I didn’t get it, and almost forgot about it, until it came out again a few months ago…and I felt like it was my last year to apply because the age limit was 18 and I was just like, you know what, let me do it again. The process was that you had to submit five poems. One has to talk about Boston, a biography, a statement, and you do an interview process, and then you perform at Showcase, and then they announce who the winner is.
Q: What do you think of the evolution of your poetry? Do you intend to continue?
Birket: Yes, I have a lot of ideas about what I want to do and what I would like to do. Specifically, I like visual things, so I want to make visual video representations of my poems and organize events and workshops in schools around poetry. You know, all levels, whether it’s like a group of sophomores or even a group of high schoolers. I just feel like the art and the poetry and all that expression that you can get out of it, it really needs to be seen and heard and put into the schools. I really think it can help a lot of kids who are struggling to express themselves and maybe find something that really speaks to them because it took me a while to understand or realize that poetry was a big part of who I was until I was in the actual setting of my school that was like, inviting, and allowed me to represent myself.
Q: What are some of your responsibilities or ambitions as a Young Poet Laureate?
Birket: I am an advocate for the arts and poetry and implement them in this community and champion this expression. It’s pretty much open regardless of my interpretation, whether it’s organizing events or workshops or organizing different performances. It’s really: you tell us what you want to do and we’ll be there to stand by you and make sure it gets done. I work with Tom Johnston at the town hall and Porsha [Olayiwola], Boston’s Poet Laureate. They introduce me to a lot of different people, a lot of different organizations, who want to work with me to get what I want to do and really make sure I achieve those goals.
Q: Do you want this position to start you on a similar career path?
Birket: Yes, my big dream career is to be an author, like verse books or novels, but my real passion, what I really want to be, is a high school English teacher. I really feel like this could help me get to this point. Everything I do with, you know, English and what I do with the community and give back and teach in a way, and so it’s like the stars are aligning, you know.
Grace Gilson can be reached at [email protected]