At age 13, Elana Ernst is the Washington area’s youngest Youth Poet Laureate finalist. She was selected Montgomery County Youth Poet Laureate 2022 by Words, Beats and Life, a Hip-Hop-based arts educational nonprofit. Elana is a student at Silver Creek Middle School.
When did you start writing poetry?
I’ve been at least making up stories or poems in my head before I was even reading. I started writing actual poetry in a more concrete way in about 3rd grade and it was only snippets and stuff, not anything all that good but I just kind of loved it.
Once COVID happened, I got serious about writing in general and started entering competitions. I wrote longer stories and pushed myself and went on a writing streak of 100 straight days. More recently I fell in love with former youth poet laureates and how amazing their poetry is and the way they talked about who they are and also just fell in love with the way I could relate. I also more recently realized what art itself could be.
How do you feel about being selected for this award?
I’m really happy about it. The position itself sort of means I kind of have this authority now, I have this position where I’m able to say things and have people hear me. I love poetry and writing and performing, and although I haven’t had a ton of chances to perform because of COVID, this gives me the chance to do all these things, advocate for things that are important to me as well as meet poets and get better.
What do you write about?
I sort of write about everything. The Friendly Garden Fire [Silver Spring Apartment Fire on March 3rd] there were a bunch of friends at my school affected so I wrote a poem about it last week. I’ve written poems about my friends before and special places to me. I sort of write about everything. I feel like being a poet or a writer in general is just kind of the way I’ve learned to see the world so I can feel like I can write about anything if I push myself. Good poems come when there’s a big emotion but I feel like that can come with anything basically. There aren’t really specifics. Sometimes I get into phases where I write about the same thing but otherwise anything.
How do you share your work with your community?
What’s weird about poetry is I actually feel like I haven’t felt comfortable sharing stuff before now. The last couple of weeks have felt very weird because it’s an amazing experience to put your heart and soul into work and for people to like it enough for them to recognize it. It’s like I’m starting to find my voice, which is cheesy, but I think I’ll be doing more sharing and maybe start a website so I can share online. It hasn’t played a big part in school. My mom has spent a lot of time reading my poetry, which is really great.
What are your future plans in poetry?
There are certain competitions that I want to be working toward, including the Scholastics Awards.
I would like to be an author someday. I actually get to publish poetry at the end of this year as the Youth Poet Laureate. I would also love to be a novelist because stories are what started the writing thing for me. I would also love to get a lot better at performing. The organization the Youth Poet Laureate is run by Words, Beats, and Life, this awesome hip-hop organization and I’m taking a free poetry class and would like to get involved in the community. They also have a slam team, which isn’t happening this year, but usually they train and go to competitions so I would love to get involved in that.
As youth poet laureate I really want to make sure that arts education is available to everybody. I want to spread poetry more too and give other people the experience of being heard.