Remember the first desi National Student Poets we introduced you to in
these very pages last week? Maya Eashwaran and Gopal
Raman — along with Stella Binion, Joey Reisberg and Maya
Salameh — were welcomed at the White House, September
8, by Michelle Obama, First Lady and honorary chairman
of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Since its inception in 2011, this program has showcased
the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and
personal success. And the fifth anniversary of the program
had Q-Tip, the Kennedy Center’s first artistic director of
hip-hop culture and a poet himself, as well as many returning alumni in attendance.
‘We all know that being a kid today can be a little hard,’
the FLOTUS said. ‘It can be tough, especially when you’re a
teenager and you’re dealing with emotions and experiences
that can be overwhelming… It’s tempting at this age to just
close down and shut out the rest of the world, especially
when the world can feel so ugly at times. But for so many
people, writing poetry helps them open up, even in the face
of all kinds of challenges and obstacles in their lives.’
Quoting Q-Tip — ‘ The world is kinda cold and the
rhythm is my blanket — she continued, ‘You don’t have to
be a renowned artist like Q-Tip to try your hand at poetry.
You don’t need any special equipment — that’s the beauty of
it. You don’t have to have any advanced qualifications. All
you need to be is willing to work hard and have a whole lot
of courage — because it is never easy to expose your inner
thoughts and rawest emotions, let alone in front of a lot of
cameras at the White House.’
Then she added, ‘Maya (Eashwaran) — where’s Maya?
You put it best. These are your words, I’m told: ‘On the
stage, there is no way to leave unnoticed.’ Did you say that?
When Maya gave a ‘yes,’ the First Lady said amid laughter,
‘ Thank God. I was going to check with my speechwriter.’
‘But if you can summon that courage,’ she said, ‘and go
through draft after draft of writing — which is painful, I
know — and then finally stand up on this stage and speak
your truth — well, here is what we know: After all of that,
you are ready for anything.’
As part of the appointment ceremony, for what is consid-
ered the nation’s highest honor for teen poets, each of the
students did a reading of an original poem.
Maya Eashwaran, 17, a first-generation Indian American
from Alpharetta, Georgia, writes a lot about foreigners and
the foreigner mentality, often incorporating personal expe-
riences dealing with assimilation in the modern age.
Gopal, 17, from Dallas, Texas, believes poetry distills
images and emotions into a form that brings people together. ‘Although most of his inspiration comes from nature,
poets like Billy Collins, Wallace Stevens, and Walt Whitman
push him to experiment with different styles and subjects,’
his National Student Poets Program profile said. ‘During
the summer after his freshman year, Gopal studied under
Nickole Brown and learned how to craft his own unique
style and how to develop a concrete voice.’
At the White House, he read from his poem August 23,
2005, a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
‘I have just one request to our student poets when you all
leave here today,’ the FLOTUS said. ‘I want you to go out
there and share your gifts with others. Show other young
people the power of taking risks and opening yourself up
to the world... make sure the folks in your communities
understand why it is so vitally important to have the arts in
WHEN FLOTUS QUOTED
BARDS IN THE MAKING: First lady Michelle Obama welcomes the 2016 class of National Student Poets — from right, Stella Binion, Maya Eashwaran, Gopal Raman, Joey Reisberg and Maya Salameh — to the White House, September 8. KEVIN WOLF/AP IMAGES FOR ALLIANCE FOR YOUNG ARTIS TS & WRI TERS
September 16, 2016