Michaela Coplen On Being a National Student Poet!

Michaela Coplen is a 17-year-old student from Carlisle, Pennsylvania who was recently highlighted by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as a National Student Poet.Michaela Coplen

Michaela spoke with us to discuss how her upbringing has inspired her poetry, and how her love for both poetry and art are intertwined!

Michaela Coplen is the daughter of two Army parents. She explained that she was an "Army brat," which meant a lot of moving from place to place. Though these transitions were often difficult, they allowed her the opportunity to experience life in a number of cultures.

She believes that this experience has profoundly affected her poetry.

"My poetry also contains a lot of the restlessness and loneliness that comes from moving frequently and dealing with my parents' deployments," she said.

Having army parents also led Michaela to become highly disciplined. She said that this always drives her to improve her craft and keep writing poetry.

Michaela is the editor-in-chief of Young Adult Writers and Poets, or YAWP. The publication showcases her school's writing talent.

"Too often, students pour their heart into a piece of work that is only ever seen by their English teachers, when the people who would find it the most relatable and inspirational are their peers," Michaela explained.

She led students to collect and edit student writing to publish an anthology.

"With some hard work and help from dedicated students and peers, anyone can start something like YAWP at their school," she said.

Michaela is also a dedicated actor. She said that poetry and acting were both forms of art.

"To me, they're different ways of doing the same thing: expressing truths of life in various situations," she said. "My poetry is often inspired by theater, and my acting is informed by poetry. I don't think the arts are mutually exclusive."

She explained that every type of art is a form of communication, and that often the most effective way to communicate is to combine various art forms.

"Poetry is a puzzle," she said. "The goal is to create a single, lasting image, as opposed to the continuous animation of a novel or story."

She said that the basic of components of prose, such as a plot, traditional grammar, and consistency can be restricting. When you write poetry, you are freed from those barriers.

"The poem relies on only a few words (the pieces of the puzzle) to create the image," she said. "Therefore the pieces must be carefully chosen and arranged to convey a strong, specific message."

The elements that make poetry so difficult are what make it even more rewarding and expressive.

"That's what makes it such a mental challenge–the pieces all have to come together in just the right way," she said.

Michaela generally has a specific process for writing her poetry.

"I usually start with an idea or an image that just won't let go of me," she said. "I carry it around with me until the right inspiration comes along to draw it out."

Michaela explained that inspiration comes from absolutely everywhere, from conversations with friends to the natural world to words in the back of a textbook.

"I find inspiration everywhere!" she said. "The process of getting inspired is a mindset. You just have to be open-minded and observant, and the world will supply plenty of material."

Michaela usually speaks the lines aloud before she writes anything down, finding the right flow and rhythm for her poem. She said this probably stems from her theatrical training.

"From there I write the poem in prose form, then edit for clarity and line breaks," she said. "I always find it helpful to take a break from the poem during the editing process and come back to it later with fresh eyes."

Michaela said that poetry is an important medium because it is so accessible. She explained that anyone can write poetry with their own unique spin, and anyone can hear poetry and be affected by it.

"The most remarkable thing to me about poetry is that not only is it striking in the first encounter, it has the power to stay with you for the rest of your life," she said. "Lines from a poem can live in your memory for years and mean something different every time you revisit them."

Outside of acting and poetry, Michaela is also into sports including soccer and horseback riding, and is passionate about politic and international relations.

"Mostly, I have always been infatuated with theatre, and hope to pursue a career in the performing arts, alongside the continued pursuit of my writing," she said. "I like to stay busy!"

Michaela was recently one of five students recognized at the White House by Michelle Obama as a National Student Poet!

"It was a fantastic experience," she said.

She thanked the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers for providing the opportunity.

She added that she has become close friends with her fellow National Student Poets Sojourner Ahebee, Nathan Cummings, Aline Dolinh, and Louis Lafair.

"I'm so honored too be in the company of such talented, hard-working people," she said. "Most of all, I'm excited to be spreading the creation and appreciate of poetry in my year of service, and I can't wait to get started."

Michaela hopes that her achievements will allow more students to discover the poetry inside themselves.

"When I first heard of the National Student Poets Program, I remember reading the Class of 2012's work and thinking, 'Wow, I'll never be able to write like that,'" she said. "But their work inspired me to create more of my own, and look what happened!"

She added that if you are interested in poetry, you should try your own hand at becoming a National Student Poet.

"I think the biggest lesson I can share is to work hard and have confidence in your creativity. If you put in the effort, opportunity will follow," she said. "If you're interested in becoming a National Student Poet, submit your work to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards," she urged. "You might be pleasantly surprised."

Read a sampling of Michaela Coplen's poetry here.

Also be sure to read our interview with fellow National Student Sojourner Ahebee here. Stay tuned for another interview with another National Student Poet, Aline Dolinh!

Are you interested in writing poetry of your own? Share it with us at Sweety High!