The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








Ella McGrail. Courtesy photo.

Looking for the next Youth Poet Laureate

Entries to be the next Youth Poet Laureate go out in August for teens attending high school; visit for more information at this time.
Poetry readings
Two Poets Laureate: The Word Barn, 66 Newfields Road, Exeter, Friday, July 14, from 7 to 9 p.m., with New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice Fogel and New Hampshire Youth Poet Laureate Ella McGrail,
Poetry for Foster Care: RiverRun Bookstore, 142 Fleet St., Portsmouth, Monday, July 17, at 6:30 p.m.; group of young poets and prose writers gather and perform work to raise awareness and money for NH’s foster care system,

Spreading poetry
First Youth Poet Laureate on writing and reading

By Kelly Sennott

 New Hampshire’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Ella McGrail, has a strict schedule when it comes to writing.

The recent Portsmouth High School graduate, who plans to study creative writing at Bard College this fall, tries to get pen to paper every day, whether for her poetry collection or her second fantasy novel.
“My goal is to write three pages a day and edit three pages a day. I started a new novel, though I’m not finished my last one entirely, so I’m trying to give both my equal attention — and of course, pick away at my poetry collection,” McGrail said during a recent phone interview. 
New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice Fogel appointed McGrail to the position with Andrew Fersch (who runs The Penn Program, an alternative school McGrail attended for a year) and the Poetry Society of New Hampshire in April, and McGrail will hold it until Aug. 1. McGrail said she was flabbergasted at the proposition, but friends and family weren’t.
“I’ve always got a pen in my hand and am always trying to push my next book to somebody. I never shut up about writing. They were certainly pleased and supportive, but not terribly surprised. I was probably the most surprised out of anybody,” McGrail said.
But now that McGrail has a summer job as a lifeguard and duties as the state’s YPL, it’s harder to squeeze in time to write in her family’s attic library — her favorite place to jot down words. Instead, she makes do with the variety of notebooks she keeps in different places.
“Wherever there’s a flat surface, I write,” McGrail said. “I don’t believe in writer’s block — I think it’s a myth, an excuse.”
During Pride Week, McGrail lead Teen Beat Night at the Portsmouth Book and Bar. On July 14, she reads at Exeter’s Word Barn with Fogel, and on July 17 she reads poetry on the theme “home” with fellow youth writers at RiverRun Bookstore to raise money and awareness for the state’s foster care system. Several teens were confirmed to read, but she’s looking for more.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what is a very big crisis. There are lots of hopeful and wonderful stories in the state attached to it,” McGrail said. “I have a couple writing friends I can ask to read [at the event] in a pinch, but I’m trying not to just ask people I know. Part of my position is about getting people to share poetry, and I’m trying not to ask the same people all the time if I can help it.”
Many of her peers are excited about poetry, but some kids struggle getting into it. For them, McGrail advises trying different styles.
“The thing about poetry is it involves the writer telling the truth in a very raw way. … But if you don’t relate to it, it can be hard to get through,” she said. “It can be hard to get kids into classical types of poetry, but I think slam is such a big genre right now — and I think poetry has a very strong future with my generation thanks to slam poetry.”
Come Aug. 1, McGrail will be part of the selection committee choosing the next YPL, whose term spans Sept. 1 through Aug. 31.
“It’s a very flexible position, and I think the next youth laureate should shape it to their own personality and preferences,” McGrail said. “You need to be able to get people excited about poetry. … And I think the best way to do that in this position is to be deeply passionate about your own writing.”

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