INDIANAPOLIS — Alyssa Gaines, a Park Tudor graduate, became Indianapolis' first National Youth Poet Laureate in May.
Urban Word's National Youth Poet Laureate Program celebrates the nation's top youth poets. Amanda Gorman — the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history — was appointed this same distinction in 2017.
Gaines was one of four finalists to perform at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on May 20.
Gaines' lyrical and bilingual performance of Lágrimas Negras was full of poise, song, and dance.
Dr. Gloria J. Ladson-Billings, a judge for the National Youth Laureate, wrote that Gaines' work is "timely, integrative, and weaves together multiple themes—multilingualism, research data, art." She noted Gaines' poetry "makes you think, feel, & act. Her passion is palpable."
Gaines tells WRTV the poem she performed revolved around civic work, particularly healing through communal arts and practices.
"In the poem, there's a lot about cooking and music, and the culture that is held in language, diasporically, and I think that looking to these community's traditions to heal in times of grief and in times of struggle is something that I'm really interested in, both inside of my poetry and outside of my poetry," Gaines said.
Gaines, who's lived in Lawrence Township on the east side of Indianapolis since she was a toddler, says she wrote her first poem in third grade. Growing up, her parents took her to poetry slams around Indy.
"I had some amazing opportunities through writing poetry, through watching these slams, and then eventually, through competing," Gaines said.
Gaines says her first standing ovation at a Poetry Slam during a Library of Congress's National Book Festival made her realize all that poetry could do. She then joined Voices Corp., a local poetry organization, through which she became involved with Urban Word.
By participating in several organizations, the young poet's career was on the fast track to the national stage.
"Through being involved with these organizations, I got to meet other poets; I got to get better in my writing, I got to do workshops," Gaines said. "Now I'm at this point where I'm the National Youth Poet Laureate!"
Gaines' winning performance is full of movement and sound.
Lágrimas Negras is the title of the poem Gaines performed at The Kennedy Center. The title translates in English to "Black Tears." It's the same title as a song by Miguel Matamoros.
She says growing up around the world of poetry, where people would step, dance, and even move the microphones on stage, she wanted to find a way to bring her words to life.
"I think combining it in the way I do with Lágrimas Negras is unique to my experiences and unique to my idea for writing a poem," Gaines said.
"But I've definitely seen all that this art form can do. And so I'm very grateful to have seen those; the capacity for poetry and all that I could do with the art form," she said. "I'd like to respect that I have grown a lot, and I have grown from consuming and watching other poems, reading other poems."
Indy celebrated Gaines for her momentous achievements during the AES 500 Festival Parade, where she sat atop a Convertible waving to a proud hometown.
The incoming freshman at the University of Wisconsin Madison says she plans to continue writing, first and foremost. However, Gaines also intends to explore communal arts as a way to heal.
"I'm also interested in expanding fine arts access and accessibility and leaning into these communal arts traditions and how we can use them to heal in times of grief and great social unrest," Gaines said.
You can keep up with Gaines at alyssamgaines.weebly.com.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.