Flagstaff’s first Youth Poet Laureate—an NAU alumna—creates publications and events for young poets

Micaela Merryman interviewing Tongo Einsen-Martin at the Northern Arizona Book Festival.

Portrait of Micaela Merryman.Micaela Merryman isn’t just an NAU alumna and the program coordinator for Preparing Indigenous Teachers for Arizona Schools (PITAS); she’s also Flagstaff’s first Youth Poet Laureate, a published poet and a coordinator for community poetry events. But she didn’t find her poetic voice until she had nearly finished her degree. In celebration of World Poetry Day, we asked Merryman about her poetic pursuits at the university and beyond. She talks about having the guts to call her writing poetry, building Flagstaff’s Youth Poetry Council and why she thinks poetry matters to the world.  

What did you study at NAU?  

I graduated from NAU in Spring 2022 with a B.A. in English, certificates in literature and creative writing and a minor in creative media and film.  

Tell me about the when, how and why of your start in poetry. 

I think I was always writing poetry, but just needed the guts to call it that. I can see now the way it naturally integrated itself into my journal entries, my prose, even poetic language in my essays. It wasn’t until I took my first introductory poetry class as a junior that I realized my poetry might be any good. The instructor was encouraging and made everyone’s work feel valuable, but most of all, he made poetry feel approachable for the first time. (Shoutout Ryan Drendel!)  

It was in that class I began to learn that poetry could truly be anything. It encouraged me to explore it on my own, to continue my study of it throughout my senior year and eventually to found Off The Rails poetry series—a community poetry reading event that has been happening for nearly two years. Shortly after that, my work debuted in Poetry Magazine.  

I know that I started writing poetry because I’m an emotional girl! The feelings need to be written down. It has been both humbling and cathartic that my raw emotion on a page can be seen as beautiful, can be appreciated, can be related to. In all my years of growing up and aspiring to be a “best-selling author” and writing fantastical stories, I never once considered that my own story was worth telling. I’ve loved being able to do that through poetry. The only reason I’ve continued with it is because of the unwavering support I’ve received from my colleagues, professors, friends and family. 

When you were a student at NAU, you did some work with the university’s literary publications. What was that like? 

When I was a freshman, I had the opportunity to publish for the first time with The Tunnels undergraduate literary magazine for one of their last issues. Shortly after, I was inspired to begin my own publication, Sonder Magazine, while leading the English Honors Society of NAU. It was launched at the beginning of February 2020, and I felt that it hadn’t met its potential given the circumstances. The club disintegrated naturally along with many things that changed during the pandemic.  

I felt inspired by other artists on social media who were creating businesses and opportunities for themselves from home and decided to revamp the magazine on my own. Sonder evolved into a youth artists’ collective and literary zine (a short, self-published magazine) that published two physical magazine issues with photography, prose, poetry, essays, interviews, articles and digital art from all over the world. We sold out of our copies consistently at Brightside Bookshop and even had the opportunity to showcase our zine at San Diego Zine Fest.  

The team was comprised of my friends, but more importantly, talented individuals who were passionate about their craft. We all came together because of the zine, and it was really special. I’m proud of the time I spent working on Sonder Magazine and the people I worked on it with. 

What got you interested in organizing poetry events in the greater Flagstaff community? 

At the time, I was just inspired to ask my then-bosses at Late for The Train to host a singular poetry reading with live music. I spent so much time writing in the back courtyard and had seen its potential: elevated stage, vines hugging the walls and the railings, remnants of history still etched into the brick … It’s a really dreamy space! It ended up being a major success, and the owner of Late for The Train asked me, “So, when’s the next one?”  

I’ve hosted Off The Rails poetry series for the better part of the last two years and it’s connected me to so many amazing people and opportunities. I plan to conclude the series with a big event this spring! Through my work with the series I was able to connect with members of the Northern Arizona Book Festival and become the Youth Poet Laureate of Flagstaff, so I am so grateful for it. 

What is the Youth Poetry Council, what does it do, and should NAU students consider joining? 

As the first Youth Poet Laureate, I’ve had the honor of getting the Youth Poetry Council off the ground. We founded the council with the idea of “by youth, for youth.” Every month for the past year we have hosted some kind of workshop, reading or writing event. We’ve started our own publication, Adulescens Zine, and hosted a free concert and zine launch. We recently announced our monthly book club and workshop group.  

I think every member of the YPC has an opportunity to have their ideas heard and brought to life, with full support from the Northern Arizona Book Festival. Having that support makes it feel less daunting to try to go out on a limb and make your ideas a reality. I feel that the council presents a fantastic opportunity for college and even high school students to engage with Flagstaff’s vibrant literary community, which, until recently, primarily catered to an older crowd. I know it’s cheesy to say “be the change you want to see,” but if there is an event you want to attend that doesn’t exist yet or an idea you want to explore, the YPC is the perfect place to do it. 

Why does poetry matter—to you, personally, and to the world? 

In my opinion, poetry is one of the rawest forms of artistic expression. Put plainly, it’s one of the best resources we have to understand one another, offering insight into perspectives that we may never experience firsthand. For me, it always has been and always will be catharsis. Knowing that people enjoy my unfiltered work is still startling in the sweetest way. 

What is your favorite poem of the moment? 

Revolutionary Letter #8 by Diane di Prima is one of my all-time favorite poems. I resonate deeply with the thrashing and resistance that Beatnik poets, specifically Diane di Prima, expressed. It may not be attractive, but I love angry poetry! I feel that during that time, more than any other in history, those poets were using their work as a form of warfare, fighting for their rights as queer people and people of color. My favorite line is, “NO ONE WAY WORKS, it will take all of us shoving at the thing from all sides to bring it down.” 

NAU Communications