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2022 National Youth Poet Laureate Alyssa Gaines shares her prose, stories with students in Holyoke

Inside a cavernous church on Appleton Street in Holyoke, Massachusetts, a group of students from the Care Center listened to the poems of Alyssa Gaines, the 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate. She is close in age if not younger than many of them.

Poetry is a part of the curriculum for these young mothers and women living on a low income as they work toward a high school or college degree. They had been studying Gaines’ poems over the past few weeks.

Standing on the steps of the altar, Gaines, 18 and a first year student at Harvard, said she was actually really excited to be in western Massachusetts.

“This is like the closest I’ve been anywhere in Massachusetts that looks like home,” Gaines said.

Home is the city of Indianapolis, which Gaines often writes about —its beauty and the violence she’s seen.

“If I had to categorize myself,” Gaines said, “I love to write about origins and where I grew up, the impact of geography and cultures, on who I am today,” Gaines said.

Gaines chose a selection of poems to read.

Tzivia Gover helped launch the Care Center’s poetry program two decades ago. Giving young people like Alyssa Gaines a place to be heard, Gover said the existence of a youth Poet Laureate — is a thing of beauty. It's significant that the Care Center students see what she's accomplished.

“What it means to the young people here today, they're being mirrored, they are being seen, their potential is being magnified,” Gover said.

Among those listening to Gaines was 18-year-old Zioma Young, who this year began working toward an associates degree through the Center's connection to Bard College.

“It’s hard, really, finding new poets, especially younger poets, or poets of color,” Young said.

Young was struck by how Gaines, so early in her life started writing and that she kept going.

“She started writing in 3rd grade, just something a teacher told her to do. Now, she's won prizes for being a poet, for writing,” Young said. “It’s just like ‘don't underestimate yourself.’ I do that too. Everyone's so self critical.”

Young describes herself not so much as a writer, but as a big reader.

“So I read a lot of mythical poetry and horror poetry,” Young said, “Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft are my favorite artists.”

Young held up one of Gaines’ poems, "Children Do," printed up for the event. Now it had Gaines’ autograph.

How a poet gets a whole story on one piece of paper, Young said, it's remarkable.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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