Angel Gardner, reading at the Youth Poet Laureate finals on May 28th.
Angel Gardner at the Youth Poet Laureate finals on May 28th. Libby Lewis Photography

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Tuesday morning, Youth Poet Laureate Angel Gardner opened up a committee meeting at City Hall by reading two poems. (Her reading starts at 2:41.) Seattle Civic Poet Claudia Castro Luna introduced Gardner, who proceeded to read some very good poems that speak to the horrors of the last week and that reflect a movement in contemporary poetry that Cathy Park Hong calls the "poetry of social engagement."

The first poem is called "Mama Wants Success," and it's a touching epistle to her soon-to-be child. In this poem, I love the way Gardner's rhythms embody the balance her speaker seeks in the poem, as in the line: "Now I find myself balancing on bare feet/ wire close to the tendons taut underneath." Both of those lines contain the same number of syllables, and they both have two strong stressed syllables right in the middle ("myself balancing" and "tendons taut.") The sound patterning is balanced, even as the speaker of the poem feels the pressure of balancing.

In her second poem, "We Are," Gardner lets loose, allowing her line to flow over her rhythmic constraints. The piece is a rallying cry. She wants poets to be the acknowledged—not the unacknowledged —legislators of the world. In her imagery, Gardner melts into words the guns and bullets used to kill so many black and brown people and fires them back on the reader: "Our voices will break through your sternum like bullets have broken through flesh and durable craniums."

In my favorite moment, Gardner sees the very fact of her writing poetry in the first place as a political act: "Some may riot and that some may sometimes be me," she says. And then later on, "But I know what is really feared. It's the chance that simply an educated proper-tongued stiff-backed calm collected controlled black native latino asian white whatever color in the goddamned rainbow individual can tell you what's really wrong, and change this dirty nation's song."

Claudia Castro Luna curates the poetry program for the Seattle City Council. "This program got started by council member Nick Licata and it looked like it would perish with his departure from the council," she said. "I approached Council member Herbold and asked her if she would be willing to staff the program and she graciously agreed...Herbold has been a stalwart supporter of homeless folks and was deeply touched when she heard that Angel Gardner had been selected as our new Youth Poet Laureate."

Gardner's position as Youth Poet Laureate includes a publishing deal with Penmanship Books. Her book is scheduled to go on sale in May.