As a little girl, Ella Wen would sit with her grandfather under the tall trees in her family’s garden, reading and writing Chinese poems with him.
Those quiet afternoons of listening intently to his grandfather, Feng Wei Peng, left a lasting impression on him. They are one of the reasons poetry is the Rincon Valley teenager’s greatest passion.
Now, California Poets in the Schools, a nonprofit that amplifies young creative voices in California, has named Wen the new Sonoma County Poet Laureate.
“Poetry is expression,” said Wen, 16 and a sophomore student at Maria Carrillo High School. “It’s a way of speaking at a volume that is not accessible in everyday conversations. That says a lot for those who can’t.
Wen was officially selected on Oct. 17 for the role after a panel of poets and teachers from across the county assessed her candidacy and three original poems.
One of the three poems she submitted was “Written in Words” which explores racism, prejudice and prejudice, she said.
Wen sees poetry as a way to deal with such -isms: racism, sexism, ageism, and intergenerational misunderstandings.
And this poem reflects exactly that. A sample:
“And the more I feel this panoply of alphabetical assaults seep into my skin, aiming
to me like antagonistic arrows, telling me to say less
and then say more, dress less, then dress more, be less, then be more.
That’s when I start to realize that words are powerful
and they hurt
but they can also heal.
Wen wrote the poem in her bedroom until the early hours of the morning one night in order to process the emotions she felt during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
As the protests escalated, she took a closer look at our current social ills and took up the pen.
“All of these issues arose from the surface, and then all of these movements and activists came to the fore. It was inspiring, ”Wen said. “It showed me that if you have the capacity to say something, you have to act on it and say it.”
It was then that his poetry turned into a “megaphone” for subjects close to his heart. She no longer just sat down to observe, but captured her thoughts on paper and shared them with her community.
A passion for reading
As a child, Wen moved with his family from Minnesota to Florida and finally, at the age of 12, to Rincon Valley in Santa Rosa.
“For every movement, reading, writing, art and literature have always been a big part of my life,” Wen said. “Literature and art have always been at the center of my family’s concerns. … We have never been the scientific type, ”she added with a laugh.
Wen’s passion for reading and writing solidified in English classes at school and in libraries, where she read exciting adventure stories with close friends. She took a creative writing class in college and loved it.
“I spent a lot of time in the library,” Wen said. “I took all the opportunities I could. If it involved reading or writing, I wanted to be a part of it.
Her grandfather, who raised her, read her Chinese poems containing life lessons: Never lose sight of what is important in life. Live with direction and purpose.
Other times the poems were simply about the moon and the trees.
“These poems taught me about the endeavors of art and poetry, about individuality, about the importance of delving into your passions, about the philosophies of life,” Wen said. “These moments were pretty defining.”
Writing poetry is akin to linking melodies and sounds of instruments, she said.
“The way I write poetry is like composing music. It’s not limited by grammar, paragraphs, or punctuation. It’s about how you think words should flow, ”Wen said.
His habit of writing poetry late at night eventually produced collections of poetry. Eventually, Wen began to enter his poems in poetry contests.
This year, she became the 2021 winner of the Sonoma County Poetry Out Loud recitation competition for reciting “Grief Is Not My Name” by Ross Gay and “We Are Not Responsible” by Harryette Mullen.
Poetry says it all
During Wen’s one-year tenure as Sonoma County’s New Poet Laureate, she will conduct readings and workshops in Sonoma County. Through these, she hopes to get in touch with young students to defend the importance of poetry.
“Poetry speaks volumes for people who feel like they don’t have a voice,” Wen said. “It educates, educates and challenges us to realize that there are all kinds of people living around us all the time. Maybe poetry can heal.
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