Oak Park’s Kara Jackson Named National Youth Poet Laureate | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Oak Park's Kara Jackson Named National Youth Poet Laureate

Kara Jackson has been named the second National Youth Poet Laureate from Chicagoland in as many years. Jackson grew up in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School. In addition to being a poet, she’s also a singer and musician.


Jackson’s work focuses on racism and sexism, blackness and queerness and the physicality of her and others’ bodies. She joins the Morning Shift and reads from her work.

What attracted Jackson to poetry

Kara Jackson: I think the idea that I could use language to reframe myself and to build a new self using language. I think about how language allows us to access a kind of autonomy, also, that I really didn’t have when I was 14 — I didn’t really understand how I could use words to present myself, and to demonstrate the many parts of myself. And once I had that, I was like, “I’m gonna use this!”

On winning the National Youth Poet Laureate competition

Jackson: I was in shock. All the Youth Poet Laureates — all the regional winners — were sitting onstage at the Library of Congress. And so when my name was read, Patricia Frazier, the former National Youth Poet Laureate, who is also my best friend...they were in charge of presenting it. And I think that that moment was just surreal for me because I just was really confused. I was not sitting onstage expecting my name to be called….I was the last person to perform, and I was just like, “I don’t really know why I’m performing. There were four other poets who just completely mesmerized me.” But I was really just honored to be a part of that, and to be in a room and in a collective of poets who were that incredible.

On writing frankly about her body

Jackson: It’s uncomfortable to think about bodies, and your own body specifically. I think maybe it would be easier if I were writing about Beyonce’s body, or somebody else’s body. I think that kind of uncomfortable aspect of it is what motivates me to write about my body so much, it because I’m still grappling with the fact that I’m not completely in love with it, and that I am not unique in that at all. And I think that’s kind of the beauty of all of that is that a lot of people think that poems are supposed to be very pretty and flowery, and sometimes poems are greasy and gross, and there are cheeseburgers and things the we don’t really like to give flowery language.

Kara’s writing prompt for you

Jackson: I’ve been thinking a lot about: How do we honor our hometowns and how do we write about where we’re from? So I thought it would be cool if we wrote poems about where we’re from from the perspective of something that is not us. So what would it look like for me to write about Oak Park from the perspective of the raccoons in my ceiling? What would a poem like that look like?


Did Kara’s prompt inspire you to write something? If so, we’d love to hear it! Give us a call at 888-915-9945 and read your work aloud on our voicemail. We may play it on a future show!


GUEST: Kara Jackson, National Youth Poet Laureate


LEARN MORE:  Weapons Out of Words: Kara Jackson on crafting her chapbook as Chicago's Youth Poet Laureate (South Side Weekly 4/2/19)


Kara Jackson (Callosum magazine)


More about the National Youth Poet Laureate Competition

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