Alumnae Poets

Abe Louise Young '99

Abe Louise Young

Abe Louise Young ’99, was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Sophia Smith Scholar in Poetry and a dynamic presence here on campus, Young was involved in the founding of the Poetry Center and served as assistant to its first director, Elizabeth Alexander.

After leaving Smith, Young earned an M.A. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University, taught writing at Loyola University in Chicago, and went on to complete an MFA at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James Michener Fellow. She has published poems, essays, and reviews in many journals and anthologies. A gifted poet herself, Young is two-time winner of the Academy of American Poets Anne Bradstreet prize, as well as runner-up in the Ellen LaForge memorial Poetry Competition, and was awarded the Nell Altizer Prize in Poetry from Hawaii Review. She is author of a poetry two chapbooks, Ammonite (2008) and Heaven to Me (2016). Her poems and essays have appeared in Witness, Verse Daily, Narrative Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, and The Nation. Among her prizes are the 2017 Vilcek Prize from the Bellevue Literary Review for “Poem for a Friend Getting Lighter and Lighter,” selected by Kazim Ali and a Grolier Poetry Prize.

A self-described social change artist, Young has conducted writing workshops with diverse constituencies in more than 30 states, including residents of public housing and gifted high school students, and has won enthusiastic reviews for innovative teaching on the college level.

She has worked on a wide variety of story-based social change projects, including Jailhouse Stories: Voices of Pre-Trial Detention in Texas; Queer Youth Advice for Educators: How to Protect Your LGBTQ Students (Next Generation Press); and she created and directed Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History Project. Young has also worked as an oral history consultant for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Danish-American Dialogue for Human Rights, interviewing Holocaust rescuers whose stories were contributed to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Currently, Young serves as Executive Director of Education and Training at Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and Co-Director of Prizer Arts & Letters, a center for socially engaged arts and literature in Austin, where she makes her home. During her 2018 visit to Smith, Young will also mount an interactive exhibit, Poet to Poet: A Friendship in Letters, in the Campus Center’s Nolen Art Lounge. This installation of intimate letters between Young and Alan Shefsky showcases outrageous verbal play, naked honesty and the process of two people becoming life-long confidants using words and art, in the 3,000 letters and ephemera they exchanged until Shefsky’s death from brain cancer in 2014. The exhibit also includes a wall of letter-writing prompts and stationary supplies and envelopes that invite visitors to write letters themselves.

Select Poems

I am eleven in Gulfport, Mississippi, buried in sand.
Two girls squat & build a hill over my body, talk

without looking at me. I anticipate every handful
of sand before it drops. Joy twists my face

and I squint to conceal it. I feel like a glass
of frothy milk drained empty by a straw.

The sky rolls slow & a pelican flies over. The sound
of its brown wings flapping is like girls walking

in new stockings, thighs chafing.
My heart pounds in its dark cave. Sand falls,

soft rain. Tiny mites & broken shell
pad the length of my limbs. I feel my vulva:

hot, anchoring, my body being built here:
my pelvic bone, my thighs with their columns of muscle,

my almost-breasts, my collarbone, my hair spread out
in a fan behind my head, my feet ticklish, hands

pressed to my sides. Under the attention of girls,
their fingers grasping & measuring handfuls,

bringing heat to me. I surrender. I am an altar.
At the center, I lie in their touch entire. I lie there

until I forget, fall asleep, wake up alone with dry lips,
sunburnt face, the loud beat of ebbing waves.

I lie there in hunger and shame for ten years until
I rest under the weight of another female body

whose volume equals mine, whose bones float & balance
at the axis of my pelvis, whose breasts flatten against me,

whose skin radiates heat, who touches my toes
with roughened feet, who runs fingers over my ribs,

along my legs with a fine salty grain. I float
on the voices of girls, the sky filling my lungs; I float

touched & isolate until they are done, until they are
done, & want to do someone else.

At twelve, I became an astronaut
reaching out with huge gloved hands
and red tunnel vision toward the moon.
The completely full moon, the whole moon
with no end in sight, round abandoned moon,
voluminous milky moon, powder keg, blind crater,
volcano, jumping with cows moon, moon without flag;
I was hungry for the whole cold, distant, unreliable moon, my
lost, longed-for, luscious, silk-lined moon, my unattainable,
faithful, private moon, moon without man, tidal, hovering,
mercurial, tender, trusted moon, menstrual, dream dial
moon; I lumbered toward it night after night in the puffy
white suit, hearing the roar of my own secret heavy
breathing, my eyes smarting, embarrassed and
failing until suddenly, floating, pulsing, unable 
to rest or breathe or land, in one movement
I reached out and found it:
a live breast in my hand.

From HEAVEN TO ME (Headmistress Press, 2016)

September 1, 2005

Earth yanks me to her mouth
O plantation-cracked patch     your oaks flip moss like long wigs

my city bleeds at the sacrum of the state
anxious panic          Lake Pontchartrain:         our flood is full

dirt can drink     remove our rocks and shelters
mud mother, hold us in your nest      a bed of stares, of useless keys

floating swampgrass     muskrat nest     plastics factory      pitcher plants
miles of spilled oil in the center of Chalmette

winds begin and clamor     forty thousand voices
the water the water

add essential oils to the river      cedar      longleaf pine       blackstar
add your hair to the history                hide

police suicide         hotel ants eat alphabet
whose ways are set?       haiku hep      rage hands ghostly, an identity

grow hurricanes inside a country with a gastric lock and key
Keep out rescue vehicles           Big Daddy

bodies swell in the gutter    blue light from a church window
falls on hands            Monique’s babies float downtown on a box spring

Carl saves a dog snagged on the barbed wire fence just
below the waterline on Broad        Anonymous drowning in jail cells

A black lab tries to feed Joe’s family on the roof
drags a deer from the floodwaters, hoof in jaws

Earth, please give me your metabolism to stratify time
give us our levees       and absorb our crimes

our Mississippi is a honey colored curve     an embryo      a bend
liquid quiet radiating crystals at the core

mother ocean was here        she gave her grief a name
superdome a crushed monument        lost chambered nautilus

curled inward       opening like a trumpet
and the drums begin       and the tambourines and trumpets

City in a handbag, centuries lost in a locket       land ammonite
do not do nothing with your boxes of mud    leaves    ovaries

lifetimes braided in place    see the bricks and remember which slave
families made them     pre-emancipation aprons

demolished homes and sodden wool       reconstitute the tribes
petroleum-sodden      cranes and golden nutria      black crows and

bottle caps     impatient, merciless, tender City    sit on the side
of the river      feed the wanderers brass keys

New Orleans is spread out over America in pockets of memory
everyone paddled    but        great-grandmother fell

please make us believe     change is half-possible

From AMMONITE (Magnolia Press Collective, 2008)

My heart hammers in its medieval flood plain.
An angel is helix made flesh and so I’m restless,
wind billowing wool between my legs.
I remember that my face was cupped and my curls were coiled
by an unknown artist, calloused hands turned me
out of linden with chisel and gouge. Angels are without
pride, without kin, without pronouns or possessions, but
I hold a twisted column and will never let it go.
Is it a lever to keep God from having a seizure?
This tree limb in my hands is just the visible story.
I’m hung on a white wall for all perpetuity but
with three more branches could rough out a room
with a dirt floor and in would crawl a refugee mother
to nurse her baby in safety. Sew an old torn glove
of a cloud overhead to hide the moon’s belly. 
See, I am just one among many witnesses
sworn to stillness, attending scenes, staring impassively,
yet I still have a comment on life. If granted permission,
I would gently lift the struggle from any animal’s back.

(from The Map of Every Lilac Leaf: Poets Respond to the Smith College Museum of Art, 2020)

Poetry Center Reading

Summer 2007
Spring 2018