Most high school students receive some kind of classroom exposure to poetry. Shakespeare still rules the canon, and who among us wasn’t forced to memorize lines from Wordsworth or Frost or any other number of old-school rhyming white men?
But in eighth grade at Meredith Elementary School, Mia Concepcion, now 17, had a poetry experience that would change her life.
“My teacher showed us a YouTube video from Button Poetry,” Concepcion says one day by phone while in between classes at Science Leadership Academy, where she is a senior.
Button Poetry is a Minnesota-based slam poetry organization that publishes and distributes poetry through video, audio and print. “It was a completely different look at poetry, and I was fascinated by the performance element of it.”
Concepcion started devouring slam poetry videos, and counting down until the start of her freshman year at Science Leadership Academy, which is known for its poetry club.
“The minute I tried it, I loved it. I started writing poetry, and never stopped,” she says. “When I’m on stage, I can tell a story in various different ways. I’m not locked into the writing on the page.”
“The minute I tried it, I loved it,” Concepcion says. “I started writing poetry, and never stopped.”
Her passion and talent was rewarded in September when Concepcion was named Philly’s Youth Poet Laureate, a distinction that comes with opportunities to perform around the city and be mentored by fellow poets, plus a $1,000 prize to create a poetry project of her choice.
Concepcion’s plan: to publish an anthology of poems by Philly youth, about Philadelphia.
“I asked people to submit poems that pertain to the city in any way, and I’ve received entries rooted in things like the train and corner stores and the park and sunsets, so many themes that I hadn’t expected or seen before,” she says.
The current plan is for the anthology to live online.
Concepcion is the city’s seventh Youth Poet Laureate, succeeding former SLA student Wes Matthews. The youth poets are mentored by the city’s (adult) Poet Laureates, also first appointed in 2012; this year, that is Trapeta Mayson, a member of the Greene Street Artists Cooperative. The program is now administered by the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Raquel Salas Rivera, the former Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, was among the panelists who selected Concepcion. In a city that is fortunate to have a thriving youth poetry community, Salas Rivera says that Concepcion was remarkable for several reasons.
“What stood out to me about Mia and her work and her commitment was the care that she took to think through imagery, metaphor, and poetic devices, but also her ability to transmit an emotion to the reader, as opposed to just tell the reader about an emotion,” says Salas Rivera. “When we interviewed her, it was also very clear that she had an idea of what she wanted to do as Youth Poet Laureate, and that won us over.”
Concepcion, also a gifted visual artist who enjoys sketching and painting, knows what she wants to do beyond her term as Laureate: attend college in Philly (most likely Temple), to become an art educator.
“I don’t really think about what others might think about what I’m saying—I just kind of go for it,” Concepcion says.
“I want to be an art teacher so that I can do visual art with children, and in my spare time do poetry and my other hobbies,” she says. True to her Philly roots, those hobbies include biking around town, and cheering on Philly sports teams. “I’ve written a lot of poems about Philly—my childhood, summertime in the city—but if I was to write a Philly poem now, it would definitely be a dedication to our sports teams.”
Concepcion’s body of work has explored many themes, like the pain and loss of her beloved grandmother, as well as current events and issues facing Philadelphia. “I always feel like whatever I write is coming out of my mind, so I should be completely honest and truthful about it, no matter how controversial it may be,” she says. “I don’t really think about what others might think about what I’m saying—I just kind of go for it.”
In the meantime, Concepcion generously shared a previously unpublished poem called Luquillo, which she was inspired to write after traveling to Puerto Rico to learn more about her culture, her history, and her identity. Read that by clicking on the box to the right.
Want more? Read about other awesome Philly poet laureates: