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DES MOINES — Iowa City West High School student Shreya Khullar was inaugurated as Iowa’s first Iowa student poet ambassador Friday in the state Capitol in Des Moines.
The program --- inspired by presidential inauguration poet Amanda Gorman, the youngest to read her poetry at the Jan. 20 inauguration for President Joe Biden — operates out of the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa.
Khullar, 17, a junior at West High, was chosen as the first Iowa student poet ambassador from more than 300 creative writing entries. She was inaugurated on the last day of National Poetry Month.
Khullar read two poems at the Friday event. Here is an excerpt from “Blue Brothers”:
“If my brother sees the sea dried out will he remember/That we used to wait by the windowsill/For that thaw of winter,/That raw child called spring?/I was born in March when we parted/I didn't think a closing was supposed to be soft/Like the exhale of a season,/Like the ’C’ of ’Descent’”
The poem is about siblings who are very close and eventually lose touch, Khullar said.
The inauguration was the first time Khullar has presented her poems as spoken word. She said she was “definitely nervous.”
“Some poems are more apt to be read on paper and some are more apt to be read out loud. I was excited to transform these into audio form,” she said.
Khullar plans to publish her poetry in a literary magazine.
Khullar was sworn in as the student poet ambassador by Debra Marquart, Iowa’s Poet Laureate and distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences at Iowa State University.
No monetary award was tied to the honor.
As the poet ambassador, Khullar will be asked to speak and perform at several events throughout the year, including a poetry competition through the Iowa Poetry Association.
The Iowa student poet ambassador was chosen from pieces submitted to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, a national competition for students in seventh through 12th grade.
The Belin-Blank Center at the UI is an affiliate of the Scholastic program, and judged more than 6,000 pieces of art from the Iowa and Midwest regions.
Poetry submitted by the top three Iowa winners of the Scholastic Art and Writing Award went on to be blindly evaluated by a selection committee.
Khullar said her poetry has “evolved” over the past year as she had more time to reflect on her writing and herself during the pandemic.
She said a lot of young writers “shy away from poetry.” She wished that, when taught about poetry in school, students were presented with modern poetry at first before diving into the classics such as Shakespeare.
“Poetry is very concise,” she said, ’“ut unravels something about the human condition in a short amount of time.”
John Kenyon, director of the City of Literature program in Iowa City and one of the selection committee members, said he was “captivated” by Khullar’s poetry.
“She was addressing issues that are important in her life, and surely are important in the lives of many young people, but doing so in a really nuanced way,” Kenyon said.
Appointing an Iowa student poet ambassador every year “shows people poetry can be a meaningful part of our lives and a meaningful way for young people to express themselves and engage with the world creatively,” he said.
Alison Galstad, Coralville Public Library director and another of the selection committee members, said Khullar’s poetry stood out in its sophistication and her use of language.
“Poetry has been this art form used for communication, protest and memorial,” Galstad said. “I just think it’s such a fabulous way for kids to be able to express themselves.”
Janice Warren, assistant director for student services at the Belin-Blank Center, came up with the idea of naming an Iowa student poet ambassador every year in April.
“We consider it to be the highest writing award for a young person in the state,” she said.
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