(Photo by Pamela Yau)
Hope. Fear. “The shambles that are the American government.”
According to Philadelphia’s 2016-2017 youth poet laureate, Otter Jung-Allen, these are some of the themes that will be highlighted in a youth poetry anthology they’re curating titled “Voices of the East Coast.”
“In the aftermath of the election and inauguration, many poems are about the shambles that are the American government and its fascist regime,” Jung-Allen said. “It’s both refreshing and saddening to hear the hope and fear in these pieces, but altogether I know it as a freeing experience to write those demons forward.”
Jung-Allen was inducted as the fourth youth poet laureate in July of last year. Through this role, they are required to create a signature project that engages the public. For Jung-Allen, this project is “Voices of the East Coast.”
The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) office provides the resources for both the youth poet laureate and the poet laureate — currently Yolanda Wisher — to develop and implement their projects, according to Lindsay Tucker So, an OACCE research and policy associate.
Tucker So said OACCE manages the workflow of “Voices of the East Coast” with both Jung-Allen and the National Youth Poet Laureate program, which helps keep youth poet laureates from other cities engaged.
“Otter had the idea to amplify the voices of talented young poets up and down the East Coast, and OACCE is helping to bring the idea to fruition during their term,” said Tucker So.
“We are excited to support Otter in bringing together talented youth voices through this anthology,” she said. “‘Voices of the East Coast’ will hopefully serve as an example of the diversity and depth of our youth.”
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Jung-Allen said the idea for the anthology sparked one day when they were having trouble coming up with an idea for a project that would last longer than the project year. Lee Mokobe — a fellow 2015 Brave New Voices champion, a TED fellow and Jung-Allen’s best friend — came up with the original idea, and Jung-Allen then shaped it into a reality.
“Lee thought for a moment, then brainstormed a plan to bring together all of the scrutinized and under-appreciated poetry scenes from around the East Coast together in order to amplify their voice in a published anthology,” said Jung-Allen.
Fellow youth poet laureates from cities across the East Coast campaigned and advertised the call for poems once the idea came to life. Through coordinating this process, Jung-Allen learned that ego and self-deprecation do not have a place in poetry.
“The ones that hit me hardest are the ones that speak straight from the heart and hands,” they said. “I’ve also learned the same for my own directing of a project. I must be patient, selfless and at the same time, driven and focused. This makes it possible for all parties involved to love their work and the collaboration it brings.”
According to Jung-Allen, this project is necessary, and they envision it as their small contribution to the world of activism and art, especially because poets from the East Coast are often scrutinized.
“We’re forced to shout in order to be heard, then criticized for how hoarse our voice sounds. The purpose of this project is to stop forcing that strain on our youth,” said Jung-Allen.
“Voices of the East Coast” will reflect the poets’ emotions, including demands, despair, joy and love, which Jung-Allen said will not face restrictions, elitism or inaccessibility:
“We should have always been listened to. This project is listening. It’s time to speak.”
“Voices of the East Coast” will be released this April. Listen to Otter Jung-Allen’s poem “A Lesson in Trans Joy” here.