Alaskan receives White House honor, appointment as poetry ‘ambassador’

Poet Anna Lance, of Eagle River, speaks to reporters outside the White House. (Photo: Liz Ruskin)
Poet Anna Lance, of Eagle River, speaks to reporters outside the White House. (Photo: Liz Ruskin)

First Lady Michelle Obama honored five young American poets at the White House this morning, including one Alaskan: Anna Lance, a 17-year-old from Eagle River, who represents the West. But being named a National Student Poet isn’t just about glory. It comes with an obligation, too.

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“I look forward  to this event every year,” Mrs. Obama said, at a ceremony in the oval-shaped Blue Room at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “Time that we honor the 2015 National Student Poets. Don’t they look good? They look good!”

She describes President Obama as “crazy about poetry.” They launched the program, she said, to spread the joy and freedom of poetry to more young people, and this year, more than 20,000 applied for it.

“This is a pretty competitive pool too, just so that you know,” the First Lady said to the poets flanking her. “You weren’t just given this.  You competed hard for these spots.”

Anna Lance, a student in the Highly Gifted Program at West High in Anchorage, read a poem called “Unfiltered,” which begins:

i should be happy to be here, they tell me. after all,
we’ve got the cleanest and best-tasting water in
the country, thanks to the glaciers
that sacrifice themselves down mountainsides while we sleep
until they fit into bottles that take 450 years to decompose.

The poem has a water theme, but Lance says, like most of the poems she submitted for the competition, it’s also about loving Alaska yet wanting to leave.

i tasted the tap somewhere down in dallas
and it was like kissing sidewalk. i knew there were no glaciers
in its history

Lance wears her hair in a cap of glossy purple, a hue that sets off her grey-green eyes.

“Today was amazing!” she said, giving media interviews outside the White House. “I’m a poet but I don’t think I have the words to describe it.”

National Student Poets Program appointed its inaugural class in 2012. The program is partially funded by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the

Michelle Obama introduces Lance and fellow National Student Poets. (Photo: Liz Ruskin)
Michelle Obama introduces Lance and fellow National Student Poets. (Photo: Liz Ruskin)

Humanities. It’s also supported by private foundations, Google and the Academy of American Poets.

Lance, like the four other poets in the 2015 class, will receive a $5,000 scholarship and attend arts events throughout the year. They must also do a project, a year of service as a “national poetry ambassador.” Past student poets have brought their art to inmates, military families, Alzheimer’s patients and communities in trauma. Lance will chose her mission this fall.

“The LGBT community is a big part of my life, so I’ve been thinking about constructing a program that would allow me to work with LGBT youth,” she said.
“But I really love working with kids, and both of my moms are childcare providers, and I’d love to do something with children. Children have incredible minds and the things I’ve heard even my sisters say and write, I’ve thought ‘Wow, I could definitely turn that into poetry.’”

Both of her moms were at the White House ceremony. Carrie Lance says Anna was composing poems before she could write. She crafted one at age 3.

“She drew pictures for me on a poster board and she brought it into me, and I said, ‘Oh, great pictures!’ And she said, No mom. It’s a poem,” Carrie Lance recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, can you read it to me?’ And so she read the pictures and read me a poem.”

Anna, while finishing high school and serving as a poetry ambassador, is also applying to colleges. Her eyes are on New York.