5 questions for Vincent Folkes, Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County — and a poem

As the newly selected Youth Poet Laureate of Allegheny County, Vincent Folkes realizes he has a platform. The 19-year old from Mt. Washington intends to use his status to draw attention to issues that are important to him.

“I want to use the platform to bring to light issues that I don’t think are spoken about enough,” says Vincent of the award sponsored by a RADical ImPAct Grant from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) and City of Asylum at Alphabet City as part of the All Pittsburghers are Poets project.

Those issues Vincent cares about include “immigrant rights for young people, young black trans youth, and obviously Black Lives Matter. Those are some things for me that I definitely want to use my writing to bring awareness to.”

The awarding panel included Farooq Al-Said (1Hood Media); Bekezela Mguni (Black Unicorn Library & Archive Project); T.J. Hurt (Dreams of Hope); and Jess Gold (Carlow University’s Center for Youth Media Advocacy and Social Justice Institutes). They selected Vincent “for the outstanding musical quality of his writing and the strong connection between the themes in his poetry and his meaningful engagement in social justice efforts in Pittsburgh.”

Vincent is also a musician and songwriter, and studies business at the Community College of Allegheny County. He receives a $500 prize, publication through the National Youth Poet Laureate Network, and an entry into the Northeast Regional Youth Poet Laureate Competition organized by Urban Word.

Here are five thoughts from Vincent about poetry, music and being named Youth Poet Laureate, along with one of his poems.

Kidsburgh: Where do you find inspiration for poems?

Vincent: It can be anything, almost. It’s never super complex. I might be doing something. I might smell something. I might hear something. A lot of times it comes when I hear a song and I just get inspired. Whatever the song is about is not important, but it’s just a vibe, I guess. Anything can get me in my zone. It might start out with one line, or like a feeling because of what I heard. Whatever I listen to, (the poem) can be completely opposite. It can be a love song, and I might write about racism. It doesn’t always correlate.

Kidsburgh: Who were your influences growing up?

Vincent: When I was younger, it was Justin Bieber (laughs). I kind of wanted to sing like him. But as I got older, I started listening to more rap artists like Drake, Nas, Super Hip Hop.

Kidsburgh: You started out writing songs before attempting to write poetry. What’s the difference between writing a poem and writing a song?

Vincent: Songs are really complex, and I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, so I like to know everything before I do something. With poems, all I have do is write them. With songs, there are a bunch of elements. So I kind of find myself naturally writing poems. To me, poems are songs without a beat.

Kidsburgh: How has poetry affected your life?

Vincent: I’ve always been super shy. Poetry brought me out of my shell a little bit more, not music. I was really deep into poetry for years, and actually, now I’m taking music seriously after falling off it after four years in high school.

Kidsburgh: In the last line of your poem “The People,” you write “Your spirit’s waiting for you” after some fairly dark lines. Is that your message of hope?

Vincent: That’s kind of a reflection of who I hope to be. Especially with that last line, it’s tapping into one’s inner self, one’s true form, one’s true nature, to bring happiness, peace and success for ourselves and others. That’s part of my purpose, serving others, and that brings me a lot of peace.

“The People” by Vincent Folkes

I speak for my people

Lord what is evil

If we are but reflections of each other

As a people

Time makes us fearful

We hate to hear that the people

We dehumanize

Are carrying the weight without a payroll

Those with superficial power, they tend to label

Those who really got the power

They know we able

And we capable to shake shit up

So what they do

They kill our spirits

And divide us up

Cis, het, black, white,

Dead men, telling everybody how to live their lives

That ain’t right

But still we rise

From the valley of the white man’s shadow

Why you looking so surprised

Our demise feeds our victory

The struggle takes us higher

Turned the hate to serendipity

Finessing all the lies and deception

Horror and the stress and Internalized isms and phobias that they made lessons

Need you to listen

Everything they say is fact is really fiction

An Illusion meant to dim the light inside

So in conclusion

They can’t tell us who is wrong and who is right

It’s all delusion

It’s a fairytale

I pray you write yo story well

Free yoself from limitation

Dive deep into that wishing well I wish you well

Create some stories only you can tell

You’ll never fail

Your path in life is not written in brail

That silver cell, that they taunt you with is more than jail

You are the earth, the moon, the stars, the universe

Inhale, Exhale

Your spirit’s waiting for you