Houston’s youngest poet laureate recognizes the importance of language justice in inauguration speech. Read it here.
On Thursday, April 13th 2023, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, and Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs Director Necole Irvin held a formal celebration to honor Aris Kian Brown, Houston’s 6th Poet Laureate. The closed ceremony was held at the Julia Ideson Building. Read Kian’s speech below.
In a time of book banning and censorship,
I find it necessary to begin, not only this speech,
but my time in this position with emphasizing
the power of language. The galvanizing energy of storytelling.
The necessity of expression, the urgency of communicating
the self and the community. A friend once asked:
Does the republic read our poems?
Many of mine mention leaders in this room by name,
do they know why we write?
I do not take this medium lightly. I’ve seen a single sentence
shift a room, and move people into action.
People ask me, am I proud of myself?
I respond, I am proud of the people who have taught me
the power of my own tongue.
To say this position is an honor is an understatement.
But it is the people who make it honorable.
Who show up and share their truth over and over again.
It was poets who stood alongside me
and distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid,
it was artists who took the testimonies
of demonstrators and made sure their stories were heard.
It was creators who gave me a dozen new homes
in the city of Houston.
I do not do this work alone, thank God.
For the shoulders of Giants I stand on.
For their sides I stand by, for my coaches, for my contemporaries,
for the poets who no longer call themselves poets,
but could beat me in a slam, for my best friends
here in the audience who made a poet out of me,
for this city, thank God.
For being the most heartbreaking thing
I still choose to love over and over.
My dedication to the necessity of shared language is my life’s work,
I’ve spent my entire life as the most unrelenting version of myself.
As the kid with the report card “a pleasure to have in class,
but she won’t stop talking.”
I needed a wind down time from chatting in my childhood,
I’ve started arguments about capitalism in every car ride.
My voice is the most powerful tool I’ve been granted
to hold, to wield, to share, thank God.
For the ones who taught me restraint, skill, strategic silence
and still allowed me to speak.
I would not be here without my sister.
She taught me how to dream.
How to string my imagination to the end of a rope
and wait for the wind to catch it.
She would wake at the earliest hours
and ask me to create a new world with her:
a marketing business at the age of 9,
a new card game with fake rules for me and Margaret.
Quia paved the roadway to who I am
Before I even began to steer.
She is the first poet I ever met
and the one I’m constantly trying to impress.
To my mother, who modeled what it looked
To love someone as is, who never asked for me to be
anything more than what I wanted to be.
Whose love, support, kindness and integrity
was the walkway to my best self,
even when I did not know who that was yet.
To my father, who handed me the tools
when my wants were not enough.
Your discipline, humor, and guidance
kept me sharp even on my dullest days.
You both taught me joy, how to hold it tight,
how to be honest,
how to be smart about my own mouth
and it got me here.
To Cindy, Margaret, who taught my second lessons
in giving. My whole self. After learning how to share.
How to show up. Every time. How to choose the ones
you love again and again. Which strangers to
and not to let inside of your car.
My family taught me how to celebrate.
I learn ceremony from my people.
I do not write enough poems about you all, but I will.
I don’t care if you like them, because you love me regardless.
For my grandmother. Who has been working on a manuscript
for fifty years. Who reminds me to have faith hope and charity,
whose love spans generations.
My family is blended, it speaks unspoken languages.
It speaks Spanglish and DMV Slang and AAVE,
It is as expansive as the city I love.
This is true for many Houstonians.
My project aims to reflect
the multitudes that Houston holds.
I will begin with “The Chopped Project” which will be a series of short interviews where Houstonians are asked “What does Houston mean to you? What do you think of when you hear Space City? If you could build your own planet what’s the first thing you would make? What do you hope Houston looks like 50 years from now? What do you hope Houston looks like tomorrow?” We will see profiles of all of the contributors with transcriptions of their interviews; contributors being artists, neighborhood elders, children, teachers, organizers, significant community figures, the people who make this city what it is.
Next is “The Constellation.” Once interviews have finished, the poet laureate (me) will stitch a poem using the lines from the community members all across the city taken from “The Chopped Project” making a group piece entirely crafted from their answers, allowing us to see the poetry already embedded in everyday people.
After, will be “The Multiverse Initiative.” When “The Constellation” is created, I will work with community organizations and language justice experts to translate this poem into the top spoken languages in the city after English. We have such a diverse demographic with rich cultures, memories and experiences, and I would love for this project to reach new groups that this role has not typically reached. Alongside this, with the support of community organizations working in non-English speaking communities, I’d like to think through language justice initiatives on a city level by furthering translation resources for city documents and translation support in city council.
To the city officials, Mayor Sylvester Turner, the subject of many of my poems, to the Houston Public Library. Thank you. I am looking forward to bringing our work to you. I trust we can do it, if you trust me. Trust this art form. Trust our power. Lean into it.
Thank you all.