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Poet Laureate Inspires Next Generation of Writers

January 26, 2023

“Today I’m here to talk about doodling, with words!” Elana Ernst ’23 begins. She is teaching eager second graders about poetry and knows just how to engage them in the creative work. “When we paint the scene in our poem, let’s be as creative and wacky as possible! Let’s call an airplane a ‘metal hummingbird with a thunder heartbeat.'” The second graders nod appreciatively and then offer their own ideas. Elana pushes them further “Let’s talk about feelings, emotions and memories. Let’s use metaphors to help depict that. Mad like a bubbling volcano.” The kids bubble over with excitement for the questions, eager to begin writing their own poems.

“She is AMAZING!” raves Elementary Director Arielle Derby, “The kids were spellbound.”

All in a day’s work for the 2022 Youth Poet Laureate of Montgomery County and current MILTON eighth grade student. She earned this designation through the nonprofit Words, Beats and Life, after writing her way through the early days of the pandemic. “I’ve written poems about everything,” she says, “about gun violence after Uvalde, about teachers who’ve inspired me, a lot about Jewish stuff.” Poetry was a lifeline for her during a tough time, and she continues to be inspired by how this work connects her to others. Later today she’ll read a poem about teachers onstage at the Marquis Marriott Hotel for the National Mentoring Summit. For now, she’s excited about the kids she just met. “Imagine the poems they’ll write!” she grins, her eyes shining.

Elana cites Lin-Manuel Miranda as an influence and is grateful to fellow youth poet Sasa Alkiel for her mentorship. Though her inspirations range widely, her poetry and her voice are deeply rooted in her Jewish heritage and faith. Her poem “The Accent Upon My Tongue” explores her relationship to Hebrew, and her struggle to perfect it. In the video below, Elana not only performs the poem, but also discusses the words she chose to capture that journey. The words she left out. The words she’s still pondering.

That is perhaps the magic of a youth poet laureate, that the second graders recognized so readily. This is an artist at the bright-eyed beginning of her creative journey. There is so much more that will come next. B’Hatzlacha, Elana.