Every poet has to start out somewhere, and for most, the journey to secure a place on the tongues of critics and professors is a long one. Myrlin Hepworth, an associate at ASU’s Piper Center for Creative Writing, uses that journey as inspiration for his day and for teaching youth in Phoenix the art of poetry.
One of the students Hepworth has taught is John Dimino, a senior at Brophy College Preparatory. Dimino came to know Hepworth from his experience as a contestant and finalist in the Poetry Out Loud competition, held at ASU.
Hepworth was one of the coaches of the young poets participating in the event, and he helped Dimino advance to the finals, which were held on March 29.
“When they said we’d have a coach, I expected a typical high-society, stuffy poet,” Dimino said. “(Hepworth) was really down-to-earth and knew how to relate to each of us.”
Some poets perform with the voice of the people they grew up with. Others develop a voice so unique that it becomes unlike any other. Hepworth seems to have a knack for both.
He is known mainly for his performances at poetry slams, a type of competition in which poets recite original works and are judged on a numerical scale by audience members. Judging criteria include performance, originality and content.
“In slam poetry, you connect to your work in a very personal way,” Hepworth said. “At the same time, you have to find a way to reach out to the audience.”
When he left his birthplace in northern Idaho at the age of 20, Hepworth came to Phoenix to be at the heart of a culture with which he identified strongly. The son of an American father and a Hispanic mother, Hepworth felt a connection with the diversity of the Southwest.
Right away, Hepworth began working toward an English degree. He started at Mesa Community College and made his way to ASU, where he graduated in 2008. In 2009, he was accepted into the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
At 25, Hepworth has experienced more than he ever thought would be possible at such a young age.
One of the first jobs he secured upon moving to Arizona was a teaching position at a Tempe preschool. He was in charge of 40 children ages 4 to 11.
As a teacher during his first years of college, Hepworth said he learned more working with the children than he did from most professors.
“Kids tell you what’s wrong with the world,” Hepworth said. “It’s obvious to them because they feel more than they think. There is no room for doubts.”
That sort of blunt honesty left a mark on Hepworth as he developed his poetry, which focuses on race, gender, age and privilege.
His first published work is a collection of poems titled “From the Rooftops.”
One of his earliest published poems, “Two-String Guitar,” is a tribute to the late rock star Richie Valens and a commentary on the potential of racial minorities in America.
“Maira,” another poem from the collection, was inspired by a young girl Hepworth mentored. He takes some of the innocent questions Maira would ask him and uses them to explain lessons learned from the strong women in his life.
According to Hepworth, it was only when he began to perform alongside several female poets that he recognized the differences in privilege allotted to the sexes.
“My older sisters were a big influence on me growing up,” Hepworth said. “It was strange and sad to hear the experiences of some of the women I perform alongside.”
A self-proclaimed outsider, Hepworth said he has always stood on the edge of issues that influence his work.
“I prefer to be a positive influence in a lot of places instead of getting caught up in just a few controversial issues,” he said.
Hepworth said he holds activists and demonstrators in the highest regard, both in the political and social realms. His choice to remain an artist and a teacher was one he made in the interest of limited time.
When he can spare the time for nonprofit work, the majority of it is spent raising awareness about the debates over immigrant rights in Arizona. He has attended several events and has spoken out against SB 1070 in favor of the DREAM Act.
Working with youth in Tempe and Phoenix still plays an important role in Hepworth’s life.
“Local schools and colleges have been very kind and have offered to pay me to come and speak to their students,” he said.
Sandra Caudillo, a student at ASU and a friend of Hepworth’s, said his ability to work with all types of people is one of his biggest assets.
“He’s really talented and hardworking, but he never shoves it in your face,” Caudillo, a senior special-education major, said. “I think that’s why he’s so easy to learn from.”
Hepworth’s plans for this year include touring the U.S. to continue promotion of his book, as well as speaking and teaching at various schools in Arizona.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org