Sidwell Friends Student Recognized as Prince George's County Youth Poet Laureate

It didn’t take long for Marissa Michel ’22 to achieve poetic success. Marissa, 15, was recently selected as the Prince George’s County Youth Poet Laureate, the youngest person ever to be honored with the award.

“It wasn’t until middle school that I had a lot of teachers really encouraging me to write,” Marissa said. “I didn’t go to Sidwell for middle school; my teacher, Ms. Maloney, was one of my 8th grade teachers and she really encouraged me, which was really cool because I didn’t know that I had a talent for poetry before.”

When Marissa began attending Sidwell Friends in 9th grade, “I didn’t know what I was expecting for classes here, but the way we delved into books and looked more into them was just awesome,” she said. “And then my 9th grade English teacher, Ms. Scattergood, really took what I thought about writing to the next level.”

To achieve the poet laureate position, Marissa had to complete a three-step process: an interview with a panel of judges, the submission of a poetry portfolio, and a live performance. The competition is for county residents ages 14 through 19 and focuses on young people who are dedicated to changing their communities through the arts.

Marissa’s duties will involve more than writing. In addition to serving as an ambassador for poetry around the county, she’ll be working with Sistah Joy Alford, the current poet laureate of Prince George’s County, as well as organizing her own events.

I’m trying to organize a ‘poetry in the park’ event, hopefully at Allen Pond Park,” she says. “So that everyone in the community can get in on it, too.”

Marissa is active in a number of artistic endeavors, but poetry has a place close to her heart. “I love all the arts—dancing, photography, digital art,” she said. “For me, poetry is a way to tell stories, and I’m able to have conversations with my grandparents, my parents, people in my community, and write poems that are inspired by them,” she says. “And when I share them, I see the connections that people are able to feel with my poems—it really makes me want to keep going.”

Read one of Marissa's recent poems below:


“Free Girl”

by Marissa Michel

When the wild rivers ran dry
She cried a deep ocean out
of the precious black pearls in her eyes
And then the flowers grew
Tall and helplessly beautiful

When the sun burnt down upon the scorched earth
She was filled with light and warmth
Extended her arms wide, as the Arabian sea
Strong and sturdy, as the redwood tree
unmovable
while the weary world lay frightened and frayed
She beckoned do not be afraid
And all cracked things lived beneath her shade

The broken men begged for a sliver of her love,
They praised her
They craved her
God was forgotten
For when they saw the way she moved
they were hypnotized
They'd never seen someone so beautiful
in all their lives

The girl whose smile was so brilliant it blinded
Scent of coconut and apricot
winded in each and every curl
brought kings to their knees
This girl
commanded the Earth to move and
orchestrated the trying tides,
The treacherous high
swells of seas

And the world was lost
in the fulness of her lips
Spent ages fruitlessly trying to match the swing of her hips
How all were entangled in the garden of her hair
How she became the only medicine to lift souls out of despair
How they claimed … they loved her
Until there was little left of her

How she bore children
Raised them to reach for skies
And When her children cried
That the mountain was too high to climb
She hunched her back
weighed down her shoulders
like boulders
Tugged and twisted her angular limbs
into steps
and
Bade her children walk
Up

She broke pieces of herself wrapped them perfectly
In home cooking
and smiles
And the people took
And they took
And they took

And then
At the end

of her life, traces of her travelled
Across rivers overflowing, forests ever growing,
Tapping to the beat of the bluebird’s song
Humming with the noise that rises at dawn

A map of a long life lived could be traced
Along the wrinkles and lines etched into her aged face
And when the sun hung low in the evening sky
Her chin tilted up when the breeze blew by
Her bent bones eased, her pain melted in the dusk

And a voice thundered down from the open sky
As the moonlight kissed her curls
And the loud voice cried with a definite groan
You are free,
girl

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