Mia Concepcion, a 17-year-old high school student from South Philadelphia, is the city’s new youth poet laureate.

She was awarded the title Tuesday during a ceremony at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Concepcion is a senior at Science Leadership Academy, a poetry powerhouse that has produced four of the first six young people to earn the title. She succeeds Wes Matthews, another SLA student.

She got interested in poetry as an eighth grader at Meredith Elementary, and was quickly hooked. She joined SLA’s slam poetry team as a freshman and was published in an anthology by the time she was a sophomore.

“It took off from there, and I haven’t stopped since,” said Concepcion, who applied for the city post and was chosen from a competitive pool, officials said.

New Philly Youth Poet Laureate Mia Concepcion
Courtesy of Mia Concepcion
New Philly Youth Poet Laureate Mia Concepcion

Poetry is everywhere, but Concepcion is most interested in writing about “the different problems we face in Philly, social change, race, gender, social classes.”

The city’s youth poet laureate gets a $1,000 stipend to work on a yearlong project; Concepcion wants to engage young artists across the city, creating a poetry anthology of their work. She also aims to change the perception of the arts industry and work toward establishing arts careers as serious paths for Philadelphia young people.

“The youth of our city have a lot to talk about, and I want to give them an opportunity to do that,” Concepcion said.

She has earned raves from those who know her work well.

Matthew Kay, an English teacher at SLA and a founder of the city’s Slam Poetry League, said Concepcion is “a fantastic student and clearly very kind, a fun human to be around.” It became clear even when she was a freshman that she was a standout.

“I looked at her writing and said, ‘This kid is good — really, really good — next level good,’” Kay said.

Concepcion’s work also impressed Raquel Salas Rivera, the city’s adult poet laureate.

“Mia Concepcion’s work delves fearlessly into the painful complexities of existing in more than one world. Her poetry stood out for its willingness to be both confrontational and tender,” Rivera said in a release. “She has a nuanced understanding of how different parts of Philadelphia come together and deftly navigates race, gender, and sexuality. The projects she has in mind for the city are insightful, and I am confident she will bring much to the city during her term.”

Here is a selection of poems by Mia Concepcion:

Dying, Alive

Abuela,

Beneath stark sheets in that hospital bed,

That dead man’s crib,

I still see so much life.

That ruby red flame of a head of hair

Envelopes gray wisps

Yet all the heat is still there.

Those fragile bones tapping on the rails

Are still your swishing, swaying hips.

Beneath those tired, fluttering eyelids is a fiesta.

You, a dying woman, are reborn.

I see you, hovering over a pot of arroz con gandules,

Stirring and singing and hyena-laughing.

Taste-testing and

Season-adding and

Two-stepping across the kitchen.

You tango, you salsa, yet the room moves around you.

You, silent and incoherently mumbling,

Brain surrendered to lemon-sized tumors,

Speak a lively dance into existence.

Every thickly accented word is as clear as the Caribbean.

Spanish and English come buzzing off your tongue,

How loud your silence is!

The oxygen tank pumping life into you

Sets the 8 count beat of this dance.

Puffing in, puffing out.

We rejoice, we celebrate you,

Only a week left to live

But your aching joints can still move.

This death is far from a funeral,

Abuela,

Sleeping peacefully, yet wide awake,

Your body will never be laid to rest.

Because it doesn’t know how to.

Miracle in March

One spring morning,

After the sun had made its way to the tip of the sky

Mother Nature unleashed a miracle in March

Knew this was the day to forge a phenomenon

She mixed together daffodils and lilacs,

Mashed the petals of irises into something softer

Sprinkled pollen overtop of it all

Practically spilled springtime into a bowl

And stirred until I was born from it

She knew it was time to develop a masterpiece

Thought the world was finally ready

For my little pink fingers to paint the sky that morning

Decided my dirt brown eyes needed to nourish all living things

Let my tulip lips purse themselves and take a deep breath,

Only to exhale a steady breeze into the world

She heard my soft voice singing a duet with the birds,

And sprang me to life

One spring morning,

Mother Nature blessed the soil of the Earth with this flower,

Knew it was gonna bloom.

And ever since then,

She’s been watching me grow.