Pennsylvania high school senior Michaela Coplen holds the title of National Student Poet, an honor presented annually to five young wordsmiths chosen from a pool of national medalists in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards who show creativity, dedication to the craft and promise.
As part of her duties, Coplen travels around the Northeast as a poetry ambassador, doing workshops and readings. The Vermont Humanities Council and Vermont Arts Council are co-hosting a two-day visit by Coplen this Thursday and Friday.
Her schedule is packed with events, including a workshop with women at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington and visits to Edmunds Middle School in Burlington and Montpelier High School. She'll also give the morning devotional in the State House Chambers on Friday morning and do a short reading before Vermont poet laureate Sydney Lea's appearance at Vermont College of Fine Arts as part of Montpelier's PoemCity celebration on Friday evening. The latter two events are open to the public.
asked Coplen about how she became a National Student Poet and what advice she’d give to budding Whitmans and Angelous.
What got you into poetry?
It’s been an interesting journey. My mom started reading me poetry very young as bedtime stories. I also started writing poetry at a young age but I started getting away from it when poetry was taught in school. It felt inaccessible.
I’m a military child so sometimes, when you move around a lot, it’s difficult to hold on to places that you've left. I started writing poetry freshman or sophomore year as personal memoir from the lens of trying to encapsulate or share an experience in a poem.
What do you like about poetry compared to other genres?
I think that poetry is one of the most accessible forms of writing because usually a poem is a lot shorter than a novel or a short story. Also it's a very democratic medium. Poetry doesn’t care who you are or where you’re from. Everyone can write poetry.
Where do you find inspiration for your poetry?
For me inspiration is all about observation. It’s about being open and aware to the things that are going on around you. You can be inspired by cracks in the sidewalk or trees.
And modern technology is so helpful to poetry. I have a notepad app on my phone and I’ll hear something in a conversation or a line in a movie and I’ll write it down. I have this whole list of jumping-off points that I can go back and look through.
What would you say to kids who are interested in writing poetry but don't know where to start?
I would say, "Go out and find poetry that you love to read." How we get started is finding poetry we connect to and we love and realizing why we love it and how we can emulate it and evoke the same kind of feelings in our work. There are plenty of resources online. Poets.org
has a lot of free poetry online and essays and tips for teaching poetry. Also the Poetry Foundation
has a mobile app that you can scroll through and find poems. Read poetry and then start writing.
What do your friends think about your position as a National Student Poet?
I try to downplay it around my friends. They mostly just think I miss a lot of school.