Today we’d like to introduce you to Rukmini Kalamangalam.
Rukmini, please share your story with us.
I’ve been writing since I can remember, although I stumbled into slam poetry quite on accident. I can hardly imagine that three years ago I barely had any idea what a poetry slam was. In fact, I was so unprepared for my first slam that I didn’t even know we had to have two poems! I went home that night embarrassed, ashamed and determined to try harder next time. By the time I made Houston’s youth slam poetry team that summer, I was in love.
I am Houston’s 3rd Youth Poet Laureate. The Houston Youth Poet Laureate competition is hosted by Writers in the Schools in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Houston Public Library.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’ve been really fortunate in that my family has been really supportive of my poetry. The writing community in Houston is really strong, and through the opportunities that WITS and its affiliates provide, I’ve been able to develop my poetry and flourish as a performer. In a broader sense, though, I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced has been the lack of representation. There are simply too few Asian-American poets in the mainstream, which shows both the progress we’ve made and the way we have left to go when it comes to resolving creative issues within the Asian-American community.
Please tell us about Writers in the Schools.
Since 1983, Writers in the Schools (WITS) has worked hand-in-hand with educators and professional writers to teach students the craft of writing. WITS is transforming the hearts and minds of young people all over Houston. Reaching over 52,000 children in 360 classrooms each year, WITS transforms student learning, providing innovative writing workshops, cultural field trips, and publication to students throughout Houston. We believe every child should have the opportunity to write because every child has a powerful story to tell.
What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
One of the things I’ve had to learn is how to deal with failure. Because there is a lot of failure in any creative business, I think, but in poetry, I’ve struggled with picking myself back up when things haven’t gone my way. More than just outward failure like not making Meta-Four Houston in 2017, or applying to youth poet laureate multiple times before being good enough for the position, there are self-set standards which are impossible to meet each time I sit down to write.
The most important thing I’ve had to learn is how to silence my inner critic when I write a first draft and make constructive use of criticism in the drafts following. No poem is going to be perfect in its first iteration, and some poems will never be perfect. The significant thing is that all those poems, in whichever iteration, are part of the process.
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