Baltimore’s First Youth Poet Laureate Wants to Challenge Perspectives on Emotion and Masculinity

by: Roberto Alejandro Special to the AFRO
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Derick Ebert, recently named Baltimore’s first youth poet laureate, wants to challenge problematic notions of masculinity as he works with Dew More Baltimore to increase community engagement through the literary arts.

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Derick Ebert, Baltimore’s first youth poet laureate, performs at the Reisterstown Road branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library for a group of students from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, on March 11.

Ebert was named youth poet laureate on Feb. 23 after a competition. This was organized by Dew More Baltimore, a non-profit that seeks to increase community engagement through the literary arts, in collaboration with Urban Word NYC, a non-profit that created the Youth Poet Laureate initiative and has spread the effort nationally, according to Kenneth Morrison, executive director of Dew More Baltimore.

Ebert tells the AFRO that he took up poetry a year ago while working through a relationship he says ended in heartbreak. “I guess I am one of those cliché poets . . . who get out of a relationship and are like, ‘Well I’m going to write poetry to express myself,’ because I didn’t really know how to [express] emotion,” said Ebert.

That struggle to express his emotions has partially informed the direction in which Ebert wants to take his poetry: deconstructing the idea that expressing one’s emotions is not compatible with being a man.

“When males are sometimes sensitive, or considered overly sensitive, it’s considered a problem. [But] why? So for me, with what I want to do with my poetry is kind of have discussions. Even if the discussion’s not talked about now after (I perform) the poem, it will be talked about at some point within the week. That’s my goal, it’s to just get people talking about it or thinking about it, because things that make people uncomfortable are usually the things that need focus.”

In addition to his own struggles to express his emotions, Ebert has been shaped by the tack he has seen others take, who assume that his being a poet also means he must be gay.

“Being a heterosexual poet, it’s often looked at like, ‘Oh, you must be homosexual.’ There are plenty of times when I’ve gotten, ‘You must be homosexual because you do poetry,’ and it’s like, ‘No, I write poetry to express myself.’ Then [the conversation] gets to why do you view poetry as being homosexual or even effeminate in any way? Why can’t this be a masculine form of art? Or why can’t heterosexual males engage in this activity.”

Challenging assumptions about masculinity through his poetry is a continuation of the social justice themes which Ebert, who is currently a sophomore English major at the University of Baltimore, has generally tackled in his work.

“The first few poems that I’ve ever written were not anything like break-up poems or love poems, they were more social justice poems about how I’ve dealt with being biracial to relationships with my father – and that’s how I found Dew More Baltimore, which works with youth poets to create advocates,” said Ebert, who cites James Baldwin as one of his principal influences.

“I like James Baldwin not only because he’s a really good writer but because of his endings. He leaves you with his ending. You remember the content being well but you remember the ending the most because it’s so powerful and he leaves you with, ‘This was the point of my writing,’ or, ‘This was the point of my essay.’ He’s influenced me with the endings of most of my pieces, I kind of leave with a bang, with silence, with like, ‘I want you to remember these last few lines,’ because when three minutes go by all you’re left with is the last few words and so I want the last few words to be memorable.”

Ebert will have a book of his poetry published as part of being named youth poet laureate. He also works alongside Dew More Baltimore’s two youth poet ambassadors, Sebastian Ochoa Arguijo and Mohamed Tall, to bring engagement and advocacy through the literary arts to more of Baltimore’s communities and young people.

ralejandro@afro.com

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