Philadelphia youth poet laureate looks to ‘give a voice to young people’

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 Soledad Alfaro-Allah was named the 2014-15 Philadelphia youth poet laureate. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Soledad Alfaro-Allah was named the 2014-15 Philadelphia youth poet laureate. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Soledad Alfaro-Allah says that she’s only been a poet for a year and a half, but her mother maintains that her daughter has written verses for much longer than that.

“As far back as I can remember, she was playing with words and putting words together,” said Soledad’s same-named mother. “She has always loved words.”

For their part, the City of Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate Governing Committee agrees with mom: They named Soledad as Philadelphia’s second-ever youth poet laureate last week. 

From introduction to recognition

The 16-year-old Mt. Airy resident’s poetic journey started when now-mentor Denice Frohman of Philly Youth Poetry Movement spoke to Soledad’s freshman-year drama class at Science Leadership Academy early in the 2012-13 school year.

“[Frohman] did three different poems, and I just knew when heard them that I wanted to do that,” Soledad recalls. “I wanted to have that love and tell stories, whether they were mine or someone else’s.”

Shortly thereafter, she started “slamming,” or performing her poetry formally in front of audiences and at competitions.

She describes her first time on stage — a date she remembers exactly: April 22, 2013 — as “exhilarating.” Still, even after being named youth poet laureate, she says she still doesn’t like her own writing.

It’s the rush of being on stage that keeps her going. 

That, and the chance to tell people’s stories. To her, that’s what being poet laureate is all about.

“It means being able to give a voice to young people and people who are silenced throughout the city,” she says of the position.

Expressing herself

And, the message she really hopes to get across through her poetry? 

“We are all genetically 99 percent the same,” she says. “We all live in our heads, but we are all interconnected and the lack of empathy we have for one another needs to fade.”

Soledad says poetry is about getting to know herself better, too. 

“I have noticed I am so much more conscious of who I am and of my mistakes,” she shares. “When you write a poem, you’re putting yourself on paper.”

A new mentor

Soledad is looking forward to the chance to work with Philadelphia poet laureate Frank Sherlock during her tenure as the city’s youth poet laureate — a term that runs through May 2015. 

After Sherlock gave her a copy of one of his books at last week’s award ceremony, she says she started reading it as soon as she got in the car.

“I noticed our ideas are kind of one and the same, even though our styles are different,” she said. “I’m really excited to be his mentee.”

Soledad wants to use her time as poet laureate to continue exploring issues that are important to her.

Above all, she is concerned about social justice, citing workers’ rights at large international events like the World Cup as an example. 

A self-identified “history geek,” she likes “looking to the past to figure out our path for the future” in her work.

Looking ahead

School’s out for summer, but Soledad plans to do more than continue working on, and performing, her poetry. She will spend her days like many other high school students gearing up for 11th grade: Taking an SAT class, playing sports and starting to look at colleges. 

She hopes to become a neurosurgeon. 

Her mother’s hope for her is simple: “I really, really want her to just find a thing that makes her love to wake up every day. I’m just happy to watch her figure it out.”

Listen to Soledad Alfaro-Allah recite “For Us,” above. Click here for full text of the poem

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