Sophie’s Recommendation: Alexandra Huynh, 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate

By Sophie Evans

Alexandra Huynh is the 5th National Youth Poet Laureate for the United States. It’s a relatively new position inaugurated by Amanda Gorman in 2017. The idea of a poet laureate, however, dates back millennia. Think of Homer for the Greeks, whose Iliad and Odyssey were told and retold long before they were written. We task the poet laureate with translating a nation into prose. We ask them to play the diplomat, communicating the realities of an entire country to those who have no other experience with us.

For the US, whose population now exceeds 330 million, it is a daunting prospect.

But the task set before the US poet is made all the more challenging compared with, say, Greece, or France, or even Palestine, because the US is not bound together by one nationality. Alexandra is Vietnamese-American, and that hyphen is perhaps the sole unifier among all US citizens, a nation of immigrants. We are a country bound together by an idea, an idea of belonging, epitomized by a hyphen, bridging the gap between old and new, while simultaneously creating a standalone hybrid entity. How better to express that idea than in poetry, where every letter, syllable, and element of syntax is thought through. Who better than a poet to record our world of ideas.

But, how, then, to tell the story of 330 million? What is it that will make all of us feel at home?

I think back to words of the inauguration and the damage of January 6th for our national identity. Why did the poet laureate resurge so dramatically then? Putting the platform aside, the poetry resonated with so many – with a nation – in a manner that was not at all guaranteed. The poem and the world created by its words gave us something to hold onto, something to call home amidst the crumbling foundations. It reminded us that our home was an idea much more than a building. An idea that cannot be stormed, vandalized, or breached.

The inaugural poem reminded us of the true ideological form of our home. I look forward to hearing what Alexandra brings to the threshold of our national identity.

Please join us for the Grand Finale at the Engage Summit on Thursday, October 21st to hear Alexandra in her own words.

 

Sophie Evans is the Policy Director at Engage. You can reach her at sophie@engagewomen.org.


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