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Interview: Austin Teen Poet Shares His Award-Winning Words

Laura Rice, KUT News
Louis Lafair, 18, is one of just five National Student Poets.

Poetry. To some, it may seem like a method of expression reserved for Valentine’s Day. But at least one Austin high schooler isn’t rolling his eyes about it.

Louis Lafair is a2013 National Student Poet. The St. Stephen’s Episcopal School senior was honored for his work along with just four other teens from across the country. He'll now serve as a literary ambassador for the southwest region for the next year.

The award is presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Lafair met First Lady Michelle Obama at the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Lafair talked with KUT's Laura Rice about the honor:

How did you get involved in writing and poetry?

"I've been writing forever. Really since first and second grade. Poetry, though, actually came more recently. Two summers ago, I was in a summer creative writing program and my teacher was this remarkable poet. He really helped me gain an appreciation for poetry. And that was when I really shifted from writing a lot of poetry and, ever since, I've really appreciated poetry for its freedom of expression and of form. You can really do anything with poetry pretty easily. And really connect with people and open up a lot more easily through poetry."

What would you say to someone who thinks poetry is intimidating?

"Really, you can just go out there and write anything on a piece of paper and, actually, that's the beauty of poetry is there's no limitations at all. You don't really have to rhyme, you don't have to use any particular form, you can just sit there and use any words you want to express your thoughts and ideas."

Some of Lafair's poetry:

Re: Think Language

I.Text Message to my Girlfriend


II.Conversation with my Grandma


Don’t talk about the death

of language. I—you—we

will die, but

language does not die.

No one can crush

that first palm riding the air

in a five fingered




because even curled into a fist

that palm feels

with the thread

of human tongue.

Latin, the gasping language, is not

dead, but breathing

with imperceptible

vitality. Salve, it says, not

Vale, as the valedictorian speaks

on. Hardly antiqua as antiquity

lingers. Rather ingrained,

the roots of a tree, as its

branches palm sky,

reaching towards a

never-ending end.

Constant change cometh, constant

change comes. Language stays

her, an archaic expression of here,

passing, at times, through awkward

periods, like the stretched amalgamations

lapsing from youth to adulthood.

Hair sprouting,

lips twitching,

eyes blushing.

So you see, Grandma?

That text message I sent to my girlfriend?

That was a

rustled leaf, an

extended limb, a







Not the death of language,

which cannot die.

Don’t you feel it?

The feigned disinterest,

concealed excitement,

unspoken words?

Language, breathing-thinking-asking,

living, on its own,

in that hard backed,

four pronged letter K.

Don’t you understand? Standing

underneath a

history, a story

where words fold

into words?

Briefly, perhaps


that swift K

surfaces, the result of a

gradual, momentous shift in tide,

riding from text message

to text mess-

age, from soul

to soul, from wave

to wave.

Though small,

though seemingly meaningless,

that alphabetized, un-

formalized grain is part

of the story

of the shifting sands

of language,

and composes

an entire



Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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