Portsmouth High School Senior Named N.H.'s First Youth Poet Laureate

May 1, 2017

Ella McGrail
Credit Courtesy photo

New Hampshire has its first youth poet laureate.

Ella McGrail is a senior at Portsmouth High School, and was recently named as the inaugural youth poet laureate.

Her tenure runs through August, at which point the Poetry Society of New Hampshire will seek submissions for her successor.

Alice Fogel, New Hampshire's current poet laureate, helped create the new designation, and said it's a way to recognize the work of young writers.

"It will honor the creative endeavors of a teenager every year, inspire other young people across the state, and encourage the teachers and parents who know them to give them more opportunities to let their light shine," said Fogel. 

Ella McGrail joined NHPR’s Morning Edition.

When did you realize you were first interested in writing?

I think I was about four or five. I took a magic marker and I wrote, “The ocean is blue and I love you” on a piece of paper. I gave it to my mom and she made me feel like it was the best thing since sliced bread, so I guess ever since then I figured I could do it, so I just never stopped.

And what is it about poetry that’s been such a draw for you, as compared to other forms of writing?

I actually love a lot of forms of writing, and I’m specifically a prose write really, but I am absolutely in love with poetry. I think the reason it’s such a special medium is because it’s the best and most direct way to tell the truth with writing.

How would you describe your style when writing poetry?

I think my style has this very odd split between highly political and oddly mystic. I kind of bounce back and forth between those, and I think that’s very telling of my personality because I love politics and I’m very into it, but I’m also absolutely obsessed with fantasy and novels.

So do you bridge those two worlds in your poetry or are they kind of separate when you write?

If you don't feel like you're cutting out a little piece of your heart and handing it to somebody, then it's probably not your best work.

  They do tend to be pretty separate because I feel like with my more political things, I’m definitely trying to make a point. The thing about poetry is you can never predict how people will translate it, which is kind of cool because you never know how you’re going to affect someone with how you write. But definitely the political writing has more of a tilt to it. I definitely have an agenda, whereas my more mystic stuff tends to be my soul doing its talking. So that’s what I try to do, I try to say what I think needs to be said in a way that will make people want to do something about it, but I also feel sometimes you just need to communicate.

What was your reaction when you were first approached about being the state’s first youth poet laureate?

Well I kind of thought it was a joke because the person who approached me about it was a former teacher of mine and he’s always coming up with ideas and opportunities and I thought this was just another one. But he was very serious about it, and he and Alice Vogel, our current state poet laureate, had gotten together and talked about this as a possibility. I was honored and thought it was a great idea. So I signed on and was very surprised they chose me, but I was very honored.

As someone who writes, especially poetry, I imagine it’s very personal and introspective. Does this role, with having to be out there and present yourself, how does that affect what you plan to do?

The hard part about this kind of position is you do have to share your work and sometimes you don’t feel ready for that, so it’s a matter of deciding what you are and are not ready to share. It’s also a matter of realizing that even if it does hurt a little bit or if it is a little difficult for you to share, it’s probably making someone hearing it feel a lot more free having heard you say it. I think telling the truth through poetry, even if it’s a hard truth to tell, makes other people feel less alone and just be able to relate to it better. So if it’s hard to deliver that probably means it’s good.

So do you subscribe to that writer’s mantra that it needs to be a little painful and a little scary to be good?

I definitely think so. If you don’t feel like you’re cutting out a little piece of your heart and handing it to somebody, then it’s probably not your best work.

What are your plans for this role?

The purpose of the position is pretty vague. It’s just to be an ambassador and an advocate for youth writing, poetry specifically. The form I would like for that to take is I want to give youth a platform to share their work, but I would also love to create some kind of online forum where they could have their work looked at by New Hampshire poets and worked on and edited if they would like. So that’s what I would like to do, but I also want to remain open to opportunities and see what arises.

Ella McGrail shared one of her poems with Morning Edition:

Watercolor

 

I would have been an impressionist painting

Resting in a field, perhaps

Or looking out through a kitchen window,

Absent-minded

Fingers curved and head tilted

As I let myself slip from the task at hand

Into church bells and distance

I would have to be an impressionist work

Because I appear so unfocused to myself

Features and convictions unclear

Truth ripples from water lily into reflection

Much better then, to be unsure

Where my hair ends and the clouds begin

Where my apron melts into grass

Checkered cloth become shadow

Villages fade into light and mist

Yes, emotions are best described by these unsolid brushstrokes

But it is comforting

This message in the softly painted smiles of blurred women

That I may remain beautiful

A better artwork for my uncertainty.