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Youth Poets Laureate Of St. Louis Share Their Own Timely Pieces On Heels Of Inauguration

Grace Ruo (at left) and Sarah Abbas see poetry as a powerful tool.
Grace Ruo & Sarah Abbas
Grace Ruo (at left) and Sarah Abbas see poetry as a powerful tool.

Like many other Americans this past Wednesday, 17-year-old St. Louisan Grace Ruo found herself transfixed by inaugural poet Amanda Gorman. Ruo, an accomplished young poet in her own right, found the 22-year-old’s poem “The Hill We Climb” beautiful — and Gorman’s presentation on Capitol Hill also got her creative juices flowing.

“It definitely made me want to write my own perspective on the last four years,” Ruo said.

Earlier in the week, Ruo had experienced a different pivotal transition, one that also put poetry and the power of words in the spotlight: She became the 2021 St. Louis youth poet laureate on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in an induction ceremony spearheaded by UrbArts.

Passing the literary torch her way was fellow 17-year-old Sarah Abbas, the 2020 St. Louis youth poet laureate. Both teens were part of this past year’s international-championship-winning poetry slam team under the direction of UrbArts.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Ruo and Abbas talked with host Sarah Fenske about why they enjoyed seeing poetry get its due in recent days. They also shared their hopes for bringing written and spoken words to bear on society — and read timely poems of their own.

Ruo, who was born in Kenya, explained what she found particularly moving about Gorman’s presentation at last week’s presidential inauguration.

“There are times in which, especially as a Black person in America, democracy feels like a dream deferred,” Ruo said, “and I believe that Amanda Gorman’s piece gave us this hope. And having representation in the White House, especially at a time like this, is really pivotal. Because as she said, history has its eyes on us, you know, ‘not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.’”

Abbas pointed out that it was a big deal to have a youth poet in the spotlight at the event for the first time.

“Especially in this time in 2021 and all the things that have been happening,” she said, “[Gorman] was able to provide a source of hope and healing that I think could not have been achieved unless she did the [presentation the] way she did.”

During the conversation, Abbas read a poem she just finished finetuning in recent days, titled “A Page of Hope.” Ruo read her piece titled “On realizing I am Black.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.