SALT LAKE CITY — An intimate group gathered in a conference room at the Salt Lake City Public Library Saturday to share their thoughts, observations and hearts through words.
"When handled too much, delicate things can fracture," Nathan Cummings read in a confident, precocious clip.
Cummings, one of five National Student Poets, was joined by Utah poets Sara Caldiero-Oertli and Willy Paloma at a teen poetry extravaganza where Cummings led a workshop before each poet read their work in turns, each punctuating their words and phrases with feeling and urgency.
Cummings was selected as the poet for the Western region — spanning 11 states, including his native Washington — by the The National Student Poets Program. The program is sponsored by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in conjunction with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Scholastic, Inc.'s Art and Writing Awards' Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.
Cummings, a high school senior, said he won a national silver award from the alliance before he was named a semifinalist for the student poet post and was asked to submit a video to explain why he should become what he describes as "an ambassador of poetry." He said he has conducted workshops near his hometown of Mercer Island, Wash., but Salt Lake City was one of his first out-of-state workshops.
"We do this because we love poetry," Cummings said. "We want to see it grow among people our own age."
His mother, Felicia, said he was always an incredibly verbal child, who spoke and read from an early age. At age two, she said, he would tell himself stories.
"From the minute he could record it on a keyboard, it was an explosion," she said. "We couldn't stop him if we tried."
She said it has been gratifying to see her son's gifts recognized and is grateful that there are such opportunities for him in a society that often emphasizes and rewards athletics. Nathan Cummings will attend Harvard in the fall and is undecided as to what area of study he will pursue.
"But I know writing will always be a part of my life," he said.
Tanesha Tyler, 18, came with her father and two sisters from Logan, where she is a senior at Logan High School. When the floor opened to participants, she quickly volunteered, offering up three of her own poems.
"I'm a poet," she read. "It's the only way I can express myself."
She said she was the catalyst behind her family's trip to Salt Lake City, which has motivated her to cultivate the poetry scene in Logan. Caldiero-Oertli said there weren't many resources for poets when she was growing up in Orem.
"I started a poetry series at a coffee shop there," she said. "I created my own scene, because otherwise it wasn't going to happen. You do need other people. It's important to have that in your local community."
Brooke Young, teen services manager at the library, said they were contacted by Scholastic and jumped at the opportunity to host Nathan Cummings. She said they put the event together to celebrate April as National Poetry Month.
"It was a great way to involve teenagers with local poetry," she said. "I thought it went really well."
Kat Hendrix, associate executive director for programs at the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, said they hope their efforts will go beyond helping the student poets to develop their craft to "really (sharing) their love with the broader community." She said all the partners in the National Student Poets Program share a common goal.
"It's a collective desire to invest in young people and encourage their voice," she said.
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