Interview by Daniel Berk
Alondra Bobadilla is Boston’s first ever Youth Poet Laureate. The selection process was a joint effort between the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the current Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola, and the Boston Public Library, among other institutions. After holding preliminary applications in October 2019, Bobadilla was selected from a pool of ten semifinalists for her two-year term as Youth Poet Laureate. Bobadilla will work alongside Olayiwola in order to promote poetry and arts in Boston, particularly by connecting young people to each other through poetry. Hailing from Hyde Park, Bobadilla is currently a high school student and proud new member of the Boston Athenæum [And we are proud to have her on board! —ed.]. We are sure to hear much more from this talented poet in the future.
Q: How did you discover your passion for poetry?
ALONDRA BOBADILLA: I have always had a knack and an interest in writing, but I sort of “discovered” poetry randomly. I used to write a lot of songs and short stories, but I was looking for a style of writing I felt better suited me. I had that with music but I wanted to branch out. I believe I read a poem online somewhere and that’s how my interest came about, but I can’t quite point to a particular moment in time. I just know I was 12. From then on, I wrote poetry all the time. I didn’t write in particular styles, it was all free verse (before I knew what free verse really meant).
Q: What appeals to you about poetry?
AB: How similar it is to music. I was always interested in writing, but poetry flowed in a way prose did not. I could rhyme and put the words together like a song but without a melody, which was usually where I got stumped with song writing—pairing the words with a melody or a melody with the words. The rhythm was up to me. There were no rules. If I wanted to change it I could. This was completely open range and I loved that liberty to express what I pleased as I pleased to do so. I saw it at first as lyrics without music.
Q: What does your writing process look like?
AB: This question is always a funny one to me. I have no process! Prior to the outbreak, I got inspiration at random. I was always writing and my mind was consistently producing ideas. Even if I didn’t immediately write something down, I’d practice remembering to get back to it later. Whatever motivated me to write a poem, I simply went with that impulse. If I had to leave class to write, I would before I would forget (I took many “bathroom” trips) and I would stand or sit somewhere and let God guide the words. I have no idea how I never missed train stops or tripped or anything because when the words are flowing, I need to stay glued to the screen or paper or else I’ll lose it! I can only retain the words for a certain amount of time unfortunately since there is always something new pushing at whatever is currently at the forefront of my thoughts. Now, my “process” so to speak is a little more organized since I am not out as often. I take more inspiration from reading the plenty of books I have been sent since the beginning of the outbreak and I use them as tools to develop inspiration. I can write just as easily in noise as in silence. I don’t need to be comfortable. I don’t usually experience writer's block.
Q: As a high school student yourself, how do you feel about the way poetry is being taught at the middle school and high school levels?
AB: I like how my school incorporated poetry as a method for projects. They didn’t necessarily teach us how to write styles of poetry, or the history, but they allowed that freedom of creativity, which was nice. But I wish that we had lessons on contemporary as well as historical poets and poetry styles. In middle school we had a lesson on poetry and prose but it was about Shakespeare and it felt so outdated and the students felt so disconnected from his work. Learning about these famous poets is important by all means but we need to tie the past to the present and show the students the evolution of poetry throughout time. What was once maybe an exclusive male-dominated art form is now accessible to wider varieties of individuals and poetry is widely returning to a more spoken platform, which really changes the way broader audiences respond to the style. Schools need to make poetry as accessible as the streets and other institutions do. We spend most of our time in school, at the very least resources to these programs can and should be provided. No excuses.
Q: What do you feel are some of your responsibilities as Boston Youth Poet Laureate?
AB: This question is intriguing. I have highlighted responsibilities (per the job role) but because I am the first, I am creating my own shoes instead of filling someone else's. I feel a sense of responsibility on a personal level since before this position (and now more than ever while in the position) to make poetry accessible to everybody, but especially young people. I want them to find a safe space in poetry, and if not as an outlet, as a relatable space in which to listen if they don’t want to write themselves. I want this to become an art form that is embraced by the youth in Boston like they have embraced music. Poetry and music are relatives in my eyes and I want the youth to see that and have an appreciation for poetry in that manner. I want to cultivate opportunities and spaces to practice the art form and develop skills. And most of all I want my voice to be a mouthpiece for other people’s narratives that are largely ignored in civic conversations. Art has a place at the table and I want to encourage other artists to use their voices to engage civically and politically as well as to encourage and sustain the community through their creativity. Art is for the artist but also for the audience—and a variety of audiences at that.
Q: Do you feel that people’s perception of you changed after you were named the Poet Laureate?
AB: Yes, in a way. And no in other ways. People seeing me differently is inevitable. I believe strongly that through our actions we can influence the lens through which others see us. At school, I was known as “the poet” before I was ever the Youth Poet Laureate. The way my peers saw me never changed. They congratulated me yes, but I never changed my attitude. I remained the girl who walked the halls at odd hours, sat on the staircases, laughed too loudly and gave good advice. I was still just Alondra and I worked hard to stress that to those around me to avoid them seeing me any other way than who I was. People have tried, but I always redirected the conversation. After my time as the Youth Poet Laureate, I am still Alondra. Whatever your role, the work you did while under that name has nothing to do with the name itself but with the person who holds it. I am not a title. So I live my life in a way that is of course mindful of my position but even more mindful of myself. The Youth Poet Laureate is not an alter ego. Sometimes people have a tendency to make an identity out of a title. If I don’t do that, people most likely won't treat me any differently. The way you show up is important. You can’t completely control how others respond to you, but by your choices you can succeed in influencing the responses.
Q: As you know, the BA is Boston’s oldest private library. What role, if any, have libraries played in your life as a student of literature?
AB: Libraries were my favorite places to be. Especially in elementary school. I loved just passing my hands over the bindings and reading all the titles, authors, and backgrounds. I remember I would ask my librarians all the questions in the world. A library was a place made for reading so I would take full advantage of that as a kid. I’d sit in a corner and let the time pass as I read and read and read. My librarians loved me so much that I could take more than two books at a time. So getting this membership at the BA was a blessing. I have not had that sort of luxury access to a library ever before and to have that now? It feels so special. The BA truly is such a special place.
Q: What is your favorite poem you’ve written?
AB: I have a lot of favorites! My spotlight poems usually change with the seasons I’m in. But as of now one of my favorites is a poem I wrote while on a mini vacation to Plymouth Beach. I was sitting on the sand as I wrote this, looking out at the ocean.
7/26/2020 10:11 a.m.
the mouth of your plyth
ocean draws back sand
appearing to be the veins of the sea
tracks like seal slither
leading back to earth’s greatest wonder
and slickest deception
domestic surface becomes roaring waves in one blink
an explosion of water atom to water atom
iridescent blues to green to clear in cupped hands
the sun kissed ocean becomes the enemy
swallowing you whole with no trace of you left
but clothing articles
and jewelry passed from generations
that one day a blessed swimmer will come to find in the treasure burrows of the floor
rocks leading to waters edge
like warning signs
or maybe monuments of the ages
homes to creatures only known to sand depths
its so inviting
where sky blue meets it’s mirror image
but just a step in and icy cold crawls up your legs to your spine to the the edge of your neck
this is not Boca Chica
this is not palm tree coco delights
or tropic drizzle
and dry heat
the mouth of Americas plight
and natives doom
this costal graveyard
decorated by cloud
still God blessed
for sun rises upon these waters
and it rose upon every evil and every love held on this land
creation still loves us enough to rise on God’s command.
ocean draws back sand
the veins of the sea
the arteries that pump back life into us
caresses these tired eyes with a breeze.