Making poetry cool for youth

Whether or not she expected it, Aysia Law is Victoria’s first-ever youth poet laureate, as well as the first in Canada.

“[It’s] terrifying, but it’s also a pretty big honour,” says Law, a second-year UVic Creative Writing student.

Law, who is already an active member of Victoria’s spoken word community, was selected from 32 applicants to serve as an ambassador for Victoria’s youth. The criteria Law was judged on included leadership, experience, innovative project ideas and, of course, the quality of her poetry.  Her task is to complete projects that will engage her peers through poetry. She will also perform at city council and City of Victoria Youth Council meetings.

“I’m excited to actually start working on the ideas we have,” says Law. “There are two big ideas that I’d really like see happen — I can’t speak too much about the first, but for the second project, I’m really hoping we can work on a diversity slam.”

Poetry slams are competitions in which poets perform their original work. Law hopes to make the diversity slam a regular event.

“I’m hoping it won’t be a one-time thing, but that it can be ongoing. I want to bring in lots of different marginalized voices — and not just youth, but especially youth to come and speak about what they see and what they think our community needs,” says Law.

The word “poetry” has carried different meanings for Law.

“If you’d asked me five years ago, I would’ve told you that poetry was everything to me. Now, thanks to school, poetry is a bit more businesslike. I’m trying to rediscover it, which is something I am trying to accomplish through this position,” says Law. “In high school, it was pretty much what kept me alive.”

Then, in 2009, her father passed away.

“I stopped writing, and I don’t really know why, because often writing is what helps people in emotional situations — but I just stopped,” says Law. “Then, when I was attending Douglas College in 2010, I decided to take an introduction to poetry class, and it got me writing again. It reinitiated everything. So now I’m still trying to figure out what I can do with [poetry] and what my limits are within it.”

Law says she applied for the youth poet laureate position on a whim and didn’t expect to be chosen.

“I guess the part of me that applied was sort of half hoping that it would happen, but part of me was a lot more comfortable with thinking that I just wouldn’t get it,” she says.

One of Law’s biggest challenges will be to address and reverse some of the stereotypes attached to poetry.

“I think, at least when I was in high school, to youth, poetry was this boring, stuffy thing that you did in English class — but you didn’t want to be there and it just wasn’t fun. I’m hoping that, by being able to involve youth in poetry and spoken word performance poetry, maybe I can change their minds about that — that maybe they’ll realize poetry is actually fun and urban and cool and hip — all of these things that they don’t think it is.”

In her own poetry, Law strives to entertain and “get a message out.” She has found it particularly rewarding to work with Carla Funk, a poet and sessional instructor in UVic’s Writing Department.

“[Funk] is an amazing poet and a really great professor. She makes poetry fun and interesting and everything that I want to make it for high school students. You can tell she loves [poetry] so much that she just wants to share it with everyone, and so seeing that sort of re-inspired me,” says Law.

Above all else, Law sees poetry as a vehicle for change.

“Youth are the next people in line, you know? And if we can open their minds now and teach them how to communicate with each other — and I think poetry is a really good way to do that — then we’ll have a generation of more open-minded and open-hearted people,” says Law. “If you have a message and an audience who is willing to listen to you, then you’re more likely to change people with your words.”

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