Junior Sheerea Yu will represent the voices of Nashville youth as Southern Word's 2022 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist
“Even after I’d been selected, I wasn’t sure I would go to the semifinals,” Sheerea Yu ’23 said. “November 18 crept closer and closer, but it was just so far outside of my comfort zone, it was hard to wrap my head around even going through with it.”
Nashville’s newly-named 2022 Youth Poet Laureate almost wasn’t. Prior to the semifinals, Sheerea didn’t really share her poetry and certainly didn’t read it aloud to an audience of mostly strangers.
“I can’t really pinpoint one reason I got into poetry or when exactly,” Sheerea shared. “I’m just always watching and observing, noticing things, and poetry became an outlet for those observations; I’m able to communicate through writing in a way that I otherwise can’t.”
In September 2021, Sheerea entered Southern Word’s
search for Nashville’s next Youth Poet Laureate with low expectations; she was shocked when the invitation to perform one of her original poems at the semifinals landed in her inbox. The junior kept quiet about the opportunity, sharing the news with just a few people, and wrote her piece just days before the event as she continued to convince herself to give it a try.
“But when I finally went on stage at the semifinals, and probably even more so at the finals, it just felt natural, like this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Sheerea continued. “I’m really glad that I tried it, and I feel super lucky that it clicked for me with perfect timing.”
As the semifinals wrapped, Sheerea was named one of four finalists and said that’s when things got serious for her.
Looking out at an audience including a few members of USN’s English department, Sheerea presented an original work entitled “Reading Newspaper Headlines” in Southern Word’s final round
before being selected as Nashville’s 2022 Youth Poet Laureate.
“Sheerea joins a powerful legacy of Nashville Youth Poet Laureates who combine their aptitude for words with a heart for action towards a more compassionate world. She is one powerful voice that will represent tens of thousands of young people who are looking for a way to participate in Nashville’s future,” Southern Word Executive Director Benjamin Smith said, following Sheerea’s selection.
The responsibility of representing an entire population isn’t lost on Sheerea, and this new role is helping her grow as an artist.
Hearing the other finalists’ works made me start wondering about their stories as opposed to just writing about my own,” Sheerea shared. “I want to make sure I’m a voice for everyone.”
According to Southern Word’s website, the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate exists out of the “importance of having youth perspective represented in civic dialogue, [and because] teens are uniquely positioned to remind us of our commitments to our children, to our future, and to our shared ideals.”
"Sheerea's thoughtful approach to language and words, to creativity and citizenship, to using poetry to make meaning of, and communicate, what she questions in the world is a joy to read on the page and hear in the room — lucky Nashville and USN to have her as our next Youth Poet Laureate," said English Department Chair Freya Sachs '00. "While this honor is much deserved, I've also been glad to observe her process — her noticing, noting, crafting the right word, revising for the audience and purpose."