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Meet NYC's Elizabeth Shvarts, one of the Nation Youth Poet Laureate finalists


To honor Poetry Month, we're hearing from the four finalists to become the 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate. Today we meet Elizabeth Shvarts, the Northeast regional ambassador.

ELIZABETH SHVARTS: I go by Liz, and I am 17. I'm from New York City. I'm from Staten Island. This poem is titled "At Least."

(Reading) In my dreams, I am King Midas. Specter, Sinner, Saint - I don't want to be another spectator. I swallow sunbeams. Slick lips revel in the golden glut of bustling streets. Here they've unclench their fists, let the cobblestones clatter to the ground. This is the type of city that burns its maps. A firework is a fickle attempt to bottle miracles, but can't we say we tried? Can't we say the mosaics here were beautiful?

I wrote about my experience looking within my community and sort of finding something I was in awe of and something that I wanted to change. And so - and Staten Island, it's not really known for - it's not the most popular borough. And it has the stereotype of being really monolithic. And that's not something that I experienced. But I also knew that gentrification was a huge issue, and witnessing how my parents were treated, navigating being a first-generation Russian-Jewish American - and a lot of my culture is in this poem, too. So I wanted to write with hope, and that's why I talk about King Midas and the touch of gold.

(Reading) And instead of bulldozing the bodegas for the celery juice stations or the karate dojo for the SoulCycle, swap the school desks for the stage. Keep the children's playground. Keep the Russian store. Keep the perogies (ph) and ponchiki. Don't sanitize our routes. America promises alimony, but we've rescheduled the court date until our pavement becomes the paradise we deserve.

I just love the feeling of being able to make someone question their beliefs or to make someone feel hopeful. And just by performing a 3- to 5-minute poem, that is such a powerful thing to do and so grounding.

(Reading) They say we should draw a solid. Draw straight. Draw the first number that comes to mind, the gap between the pot hole and the picket fence. In my dreams, I am King Midas. Specter, Sinner, Saint - someday what I touch will turn to gold. Together we'll make these pavements paradise.

ESTRIN: Elizabeth Shvarts - a finalist for this year's National Youth Poet Laureate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.