Getting to Know Anjalequa Birkett, Boston’s new Youth Poet Laureate
What part of Massachusetts are you from?
I’m originally from Roxbury, Massachusetts but I currently live in Roslindale, Massachusetts. I always mention Roxbury in any bios or questionnaires because that neighbourhood was the true inspiration and spark of my artistic side. And while when most people think of Roxbury they associate it with violence or drug addicts and the projects, I think they forget that a lot of the people there are really just roses growing from concrete.
Any other poets or artists in your family?
My dad has told me that one of my brothers used to write and draw when he was about my age or a little bit younger too but stopped after a little while. Now, I’m not sure many—if any—people in my family are poets or artists. Everyone seems to see things differently, and I kind of like that, actually. It makes discussions fun and keeps my mind open.
Do you remember the first time you wanted to write poetry?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was probably in kindergarten, but the first time I actually wanted to write was probably in second or third grade, and the first time I wanted to write poetry was in eighth grade. When I was in grade school, I was taken out of class for a couple years to help improve my reading, comprehension, maths and other academic areas I was struggling in. Being taken out of class made me feel dumb and like I didn’t belong, and the bullying didn’t help. So I started reading. It started with easy books, then quickly I turned to chapter books and novels. I’m pretty sure I ran through my mum’s Sister Soljuh and James Patterson collection before I was in fifth grade. My favorite author became Jaquoline Woodson. Her words and imagery and overall conviction and vibe sucked me in and somewhere deep down, within the dream of growing up to be a chef or an animal rescuer or a bartender, I had this dream, this small want and hope of being a writer. The first time I wanted to write poetry was my eighth grade year at my school where I was introduced to our slam team composed of five talented senior poets and myself. While I had friends and started making new ones at my school, I felt left out and like I didn’t have a place there, like I was just floating around with overdue assignments and trying to survive off two hours of sleep and coffee. But getting to know those people, getting to witness their work and family dynamic made me feel like I was fitting in and like I actually had a place and reason to be at that school, a reason to think I can do anything. And that also helped ignite that dream of wanting to be a writer again.
What made you apply to be Boston’s Youth Poet Laureate?
I applied for the first time two years ago and, at the time, I thought I wanted the position to get known: for people to know my name and whenever they hear it or see me they think, “Wow, that’s Anjalequa. That’s that poet!” After Alondra won and I had two years to really think about what I want to get out of poetry and the arts and myself I realized I didn’t really care about the “fame” part of what this is. I cared about the connection. I cared about the people who read my poems or watch me perform and resonate with what I have to say and feel moved and inspired themselves. My preface to my performance at the library a couple weeks ago really sums it up. And understand this: while I may be the youth poet laureate, I’ve already seen the impact that poetry has; that my poetry has on people of different ages and backgrounds. It’s probably one of the best feelings in the world right now.
Any advice to younger kids who might not know they are poets yet?
You already are a poet. You already are an artist. You just have to see it, to hear it—feel it. It took me a while to understand that a poet isn’t defined by complex metaphors or the way they present their work. That a poet isn’t some weird kid who just wears baggy clothes and doesn’t believe in showers like in the movies; a poet is only defined as and by the person whose name and essence stamp those stanzas and similes. So in short, don’t let what you think hold you back. Let what you know push you forward.
What is next for Anjalequa Birkett? What do you plan to do as Boston’s Youth Poet Laureate?
There are certainly a lot of great things ahead. In the sense of what is next for me, I plan on finding job opportunities that push me to my career path of being a teacher, specifically high school english. I plan on going to Bunker Hill Community College in the Fall, or taking a year off and working, travelling, researching; just being more connected to my world. In the sense of being the Youth Poet Laureate, I have so many ideas! I plan on making visuals that highlight the artistic nature of Boston, not just poets but dancers, painters, musicians, etc. I plan on holding events and workshops that aren’t completely academic, but more of a space for freedom and expression really honing in on the words that flow through our minds. I want to connect with schools and implement programs and spaces I can go in and do a little presentation and have fun with students. I can go on and on but I’ll give you this little sneak peak.