In a city known for its poets and poetry, being named Chicago’s first poet laureate is high praise and a tall order. But teacher, producer, composer, performer and poet avery young, who styles his name in all lowercase, said he can’t wait to get started serving as the city’s poetry ambassador.
The Chicago native said he cut his teeth on poetry with the anthology “I Am the Darker Brother.”
“I was just fell in love with words and the stories that were being told in those books by so many great poets,” said young.
Chicago — especially Black Chicago — provides the inspiration behind much of his work, young said.
“In the Black world that I grew up in on North Avenue and Central, the liquor store, the currency exchange and the stove-front church, all kind of like next door to each other — things that make me laugh and smell,” young said. “I was just telling someone earlier today if you want to keep anything private, don’t ever tell a poet or a reporter. I like to talk about the stories of people attached to this great city. I write poems about Mavis Staples. I write poems about my mother, my cousin, my uncle … a lot of things in Chicago.”
His multidisciplinary approach combines poetry with elements of performance and singing, an approach young said is rooted in a desire to better convey emotion.
“Watching a minister preach and get people all riled up and then praise and things of that nature. And I was like, wait, hold up. That’s some magic. I was like, ‘OK, I will figure that out magic. I will figure this out,’” young said. “The first time I’ve seen any message being given to people through language has been through a sermon and Black preaching. And so a lot of what is going on through church and transforming the space with language is what influences the way in which I deliver poems and things with that.”
With the resources this new role offers, young said he hopes to find new ways to bring poetry to Chicagoans and develop future poet laureates.
“I want to work with [the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events] and figure out the resources to create residencies for poets outside of myself. Maybe there is a meeting to be had with some magazines and newspapers to experience poetry section and things of that nature,” young said. “I’ve been … going to schools, going to the afterschool programs, into the many community organizations and just working with youth and trying to figure out the ways in which they can get a platform to tell people they are here, they are alive and their breath is valuable.”