Perhaps you heard of her, because the Weekly has certainly written about her before. Mahi Shah, from Notre Dame High School in Salinas, won the 2022 Monterey County Poetry Out Loud contest. Last weekend, she was officially titled the first Monterey County Youth Poet Laureate. The master of the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate commencement ceremony, which took place on Saturday, April 22 at the Marina Library, was Monterey Poet Laureate Daniel B. Summerhill, who has held that honor since 2022.
“I learned about [the Monterey Youth Poet Laureate contest] from a flier,” Shah says. She found out that she won two weeks before the ceremony, while sitting in a statistics class. She thought it was “crazy,” and spent the rest of the day in happy disbelief. Before the ceremony, Mahi was presented as Youth Poet Laureate to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.
Summerhill will guide her in her future duties. So far, she only knows her assignment for the next year will be to “spread poetry” among Monterey County youth.
For Shah, who is in the process of applying to colleges, poetry is a hobby, albeit a serious one.
“I’m still not certain about what I’ll pursue,” she says about future majors. “All I know is that as of right now, being Youth Poet Laureate is one of my biggest priorities.”
Architecture or engineering are among her other interests. “I’m sure I will have this same passion in my future even if I don’t major in poetry,” Shah says. She is one of those poets who believe in inspiration at the right moment, versus a daily, systematic labor.
Representatives of the Arts Council for Monterey County, the nonprofit that sponsors the program, were present at the ceremony, as well as the members of the judges panel that made a selection. Three young poets—Ieleen Li, Melissa Macias and Brianna Sciuto—got Youth Poet honorable mention recognition.
During the ceremony, Shah read some of her poetry, most of this coming from this year. Below is her poem titled “What Happens After an Alien Abduction.”
What Happens After an Alien Abduction
I was walking to the library, when the alarm began to sound.
The inverted siren’s song
dug into my skin, ants running up and down my arms
to the beat of the yelling of the people, those few left.
Dogs strutted down the streets,
barking at friends and at one another,
fighting and forgetting in a
constant cycle with no end.
In the gusts of wind,
plastic Walmart bags whipped through the sky,
a spot of light in the bright red
eye peering down at us from above.
Children stained their shoes on red stones and played futbol on artificial lawns
in my mind,
calling back to the ads now
crumpled on the street and used as pothole covers.
I tripped over the heel of a pair of sparkling red slippers
as the screams of the howling wind
defeated those of us left behind.
The National Youth Poet Laureate program was founded in 2016 by the Urban Word NYC organization, a youth program that provides opportunities for learning creative writing, poetry, spoken word, college prep, literature and hip-hop. It is loosely connected to the United States Poet Laureate in that they are both sponsored by the Library of Congress. The inaugural Youth Poet Laureate in 2017 was Amanda Gorman, whose poems the whole nation could hear at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration of Joe Biden.
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