Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate
Jackson Neal is a freshman at the University of Houston and a three-time member of Houston’s premier youth poetry slam team, Meta-Four Houston. He is the 2018 Space City Grand Slam Champion, a 2018 National YoungArts Foundation Winner in Writing and a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts nominee. His writing and videos have been featured in the Houston Chronicle. A proud member of Clutch City, Jackson makes it a point to rep H-Town wherever he goes.
Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate in the News
- Houston Has a New Youth Poet Laureate | Houston Public Media
- Houstonians celebrate young inspiring voices at witty writer’s gala | CultureMap
- Young writers shine at Writers in the Schools 10th annual gala | Houston Chronicle
Jackson’a Inaugural Speech | November 2018
Hi everyone, and thank you for having me. My heart is so full. I am honored to carry the legacy of the Houston Youth Poet Laureate. Thank you to Mayor Sylvester Turner, my parents, and siblings, Meta-Four Houston, and most of all thank you, Writers in the Schools.
I met WITS three years ago at a poetry slam. I hold that day very close to me. In all honesty, it was kind of a mess. I asked my dad to drive me an hour from Sugar Land to the Northside, I performed a five-minute poem when the time limit is three, and I didn’t know I was supposed to have a second poem for the next round. Still, I got third place. When I came off stage, something unlocked. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Then, like a sign from the universe this girl, who I did not know, ran up and hugged me, as if to say “welcome home”. That girl turned out to be one of my closest friends and teammates, previous Youth Poet Laureate Rukmini Kalamangalam. And from that moment on I’ve known poetry as a space to be held, and a path to home.
My coaches, Bean, DEEP, and Loyce, have shown me a love I didn’t know existed, my Meta-Four Houston teammates are a second family. When I was picking apart my grandparents’ house after the hurricane, they were the first ones to call me. When I was afraid of studying Creative Writing they held me up. They teach me that vulnerability is power, that home is wherever we find each other, that we can’t possibly make a better world if we don’t first imagine it.
As the Houston Youth Poet Laureate, I am carrying all these lessons with me. I want to encourage all Houstonians to find each other through their stories, to make art and spaces for art to exist, radically, relentlessly. We are in a time with destruction all around us, but poetry is the opposite of that. Poetry is alive, it is the revolution, it is the hope we have left to carry. I’ll leave you all with a poem, and I hope you can carry it with you. Thank you.
In my body
where everything has a name,
I was unfound. Placeless,
I stood in the mirror,
calling things what they are:
my collar, my ear, my hunger.
In another time I could fly,
Just above my ear a preauricular sinus
proves last week I breathed water
In another time I was two cells
and only possibility.
My mother thinks she is her body,
this means I was my mother yesterday.
What can’t I make? I, who
yesterday gave myself a life.
Where can’t I go, when I come
from so many strange miracles?