It was late June and Laila Ruffin was scrambling.
She had just seen an email from the Poetry Society of New Hampshire seeking submissions for the position of youth poet laureate. The only problem was the deadline was the next day and the list of requirements was lengthy.
But she was definitely interested, so she sent an email to see if she could get an extension.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for someone who is into poetry,” Ruffin said.
She called a friend to fulfill the peer recommendation. But with it being summer, the teacher recommendation was going to take some persistence. In the mean time, Ruffin pulled together five original poems (with some revisions), a vision statement for the position and filled out the necessary paperwork.
And it turns out all that hard work paid off, as Ruffin was recently selected as the New Hampshire Youth Poet Laureate by the Poetry Society of N.H.
“We want to spread a love of poetry and an interest in poetry,” said Jimmy Pappas, board member for the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and member of the youth poet laureate committee. “And everything was excellent about Laila. Her poetry, her recommendations, her enthusiasm.”
Ruffin’s one-year term will begin on Friday.
“I was shocked, very shocked when I found out. It was a very joyous moment,” Ruffin said.
The position of youth poet laureate was created last year, with then Portsmouth High senior Ella McGrail filling the spot from March 22 through Aug. 1.
As youth poet laureate, Ruffin will make appearances around the state to help share her love of poetry – something she has felt since a third grade poetry project.
“I’ll be the youth ambassador for poetry in the state,” Ruffin said. “A link to people my own age.”
When it comes to poetry, Ruffin can’t get enough.
She likes to write it, both prose and free verse, a lot of times strewing Post-it notes around her room with short poems so she doesn’t let the idea escape. Later on she’ll go back and expand upon some of them to make a more thoughtful and creative piece.
“It’s great to have an outlet from the typical confines of life,” Ruffin said. “It’s nice to have a way to express yourself.”
Ruffin reads poetry all the time, the likes of Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde and Maxine Kumin are at the top of her list.
“I get inspiration when reading poetry,” she said.
A number of her friends are into poetry, and she even gets ideas and poems from people through her Pinterest account.
“It’s an every day thing,” she said. “It’s a very big part of my life.”
Just this past school year, Ruffin was her class winner for Poetry Out Loud (although she was the only one who officially competed) and took the top spot at Concord High.
“It’s a great public speaking experience,” Ruffin said.
She went on to become a regional finalist and runner-up in the state – just missing out on a chance at nationals.
At the state and regional finals, students must have three poems prepared – one must be 25 lines or fewer, and one must have been written before the 20th century. The same poem may be used to meet both criteria.
It’s easy to see why Ruffin was selected to fill the first full-term.
“We just thought she’d be a great youth poet laureate,” Pappas said. “And we hope this lasts a long time and becomes a part of New Hampshire culture.”
Soon, Ruffin will be inspiring young poetry enthusiasts around the state – for the next year and beyond.
“It’s going to be a great experience; I’m looking forward to it,” she said.