.Generational Voice

Youth poet laureate celebrates the art form

Dina Lusztig Noyes started writing out of necessity in order to make sense of the thoughts running through her head. She was barely in her teens when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and had to grapple with the isolation of the lockdown in a new way.

“I just didn’t really know what else to do with myself. So at some point I sat down and I was like, well, there’s a lot of words in my head [and] there’s no real way to get them out because there aren’t exactly many other people around,” she recalls.

Lusztig Noyes, who just turned 17, proceeded to write an entire fantasy novel at age 14 and self-published it. It was a turning point, she says, one which made her realize her capabilities. But that was only the beginning. Soon after, she moved on from prose to find her power in poetry.

Now, Lusztig Noyes has been selected to be Santa Cruz County’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate. Out of five finalists, she was selected by a panel of local poets and educators during an event at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz on April 10. The other finalists included Gregory Souza, Simon Ellefson, Sylvi Kayser and Madeline Aliah. The competition was open to any county resident aged 13 to 18.

The Youth Poet Laureate will serve a one-year term from 2024 to 2025.

Lusztig Noyes is quick to point out that the momentous honor is not only about her. She says the final felt more like a celebration of the artform than a coronation.

“I just felt that everyone was [there] to support everyone else,” Lusztig Noyes says about the Kuumba event.

The Youth Poet Laureate—much like the Poet Laureate—acts as an advocate and county ambassador for poetry, social action and civic engagement. According to the Santa Cruz Public Libraries website, the  winner will “champion their own poetic practice while also encouraging their peers to take part in the artform through readings, workshops and appearances at events and engagements throughout the county.”

The establishment of the Youth Poet Laureate post was orchestrated by current Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate Farnaz Fatemi. A UC Santa Cruz graduate and longtime area resident, Fatemi was selected for the 2023-2024 term. After assuming the role, Fatemi says that creating a youth poet initiative was a priority.

“I heard from the arts council and county office of education that […] in the past few years different teenagers had asked, ‘why don’t we have a program for a Youth Poet Laureate?’” Fatemi says.

Soon after, Fatemi teamed up with Santa Cruz Public Libraries and it began to take shape. Her goal is to guide the nascent program while still in her post, but have it eventually taken up by youth poets.

“I’m committed to seeing this program for the next several years, work on this program for the next several years, whether I’m Poet Laureate or not. But also to try to make it self sustaining and youth-led,” Fatemi explains.

At the celebration on April 10, Fatemi says that the poet and attendees all experienced something powerful.

“They got something out of it. They felt more hopeful about the world and they felt more hopeful about our community. There were people in tears; it was so sweet.”

Lusztig Noyes echoes the call for more youth-centered poetry programs and events in the county. As inaugural Youth Poet Laureate, she hopes to establish a youth poetry open mic night locally.

“I respect the fact that adults have probably been doing this art form for a lot longer, but I don’t feel like their voice can capture what ours can because we have a very different perspective than they do,” Lusztig Noyes says.

“I want to create a space where I feel like people who are like you, people who do have fresher perspectives, feel comfortable; and feel open; and feel welcome.”

Her work grapples with themes of gender identity, mental health and self-reflection on issues of class. But her influences are more unlikely, citing humorists Douglass Adams and David Sedaris as favorite authors.

Lusztig Noyes says her work is not only to be read, but also to be heard.

“I encourage all those who read this article and enjoy what they read to try and find me at an event and hear what these poems are supposed to sound like, not just what they’re supposed to look like.”

Dina Lusztig Noyes and the other finalists will be reading their poetry at the Scotts Valley Multicultural Fair on Saturday, May 4, 2024.

Poems by Dina below:


Friend, you say it like I wanted this.

“To my knowledge you were born without a uterus.”

Look at me! I’m pretty now, but not without a phallus.

And you breathe now into the table.

You are in pain and to help I am unable;

and so I write, because this is a fable.

It’s hard for me to say that this is just.

Privilege shoots down right to disgust;

and so for life my jaws have shut and rust.

Because I was born a boy: femme of mind,

but not of body (god could never dare to be that kind).

And so I, stag, dream to look a hind.

But I was also born with paper skin.

My ivory organ burns quite easily, akin

to kindling that will never be called sin.

I was born third generation:

not first, not second, past the pain of relocation,

my life allowed to face boring stagnation.

My parents are professors, I am educated.

I am upper middle class, my hunger sated.

I am a hundred natural rights perpetuated.

I have been my only chains,

stuck inside a twisted brain.

To my world I’m… in-profane.

I don’t deserve to feel oppressed:

to feel as though my life a play regressed

upon itself–I lay my riddled head to rest.

The truth is far less comforting.

Everyone suffers.

Everyone strives.

Everyone lives.

You do not have to know another’s pain

to want to help, want to sustain,

the life they live free of disdain.

There will come a day when she falls through.

Feels her own pain in every mortal hue,

and now she will not tell you.

Not because you are not kind,

not for lack of helpful mind,

but to you, she may never be a hind.

Your mind sees her stag parts.

Shoulders, legs, jaw, not heart.

It, in the moment, is ripping her apart.

She will forget soon, forgive,

but part of her will still relive.

Moment out of time, silent missive.

It tells her to be careful, please.

You know her, recall her face with ease,

but she doesn’t tell you her heart seized.

She doesn’t tell you what she’d kill to change.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Good Times E-edition Good Times E-edition