Ten students from across Maryland will compete in the Poetry Out Loud finals on March 18 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where the winner will go on to compete nationally in Washington, D.C.
The competition focuses on poetry recitation, which is not as theatrical as spoken word poetry or monologues. But, in memorizing at least one poem, these students gain confidence while building public speaking skills and learning about their literary heritage, Chris Stewart, Maryland State Arts Council program director, told the AFRO
.“I think poetry is often seen as something that is inaccessible, which is absolutely not true,” he said. “By engaging students in this program, students find poems that speak to them even from the 1500s that they’re very surprised to connect with. In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins, the poems will stay with them for the rest of their lives, and that’s the most important thing.”
High school students select poems from a list provided by the Poetry Out Loud organization, and must select three poems that consist of one pre-20th century poem, a poem that is 25 lines or less and a free choice. This year, Maryland participation numbers rose with approximately 9,300 students, 215 teachers, and 46 schools in 14 counties participating.
Angie Faieq, 16, is a junior in the literary arts program at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore. She is the first contestant from Carver to participate in Poetry Out Loud, which Faieq said she is really excited about. Faieq said she was driven by her Finnish mother and Afghani father to be passionate about her education, and she is involved in many extracurricular activities, like volleyball and the Spanish honor society because of it.
She chose “What You Have to Get Over by Dick Allen”, “In the Desert” by Stephen Crane and “Tarantulas on the Life Buoy” by Thomas Lux. Faieq said there was a magnetic attraction to Lux’s poem, and was surprised she had never read it when she studied his work in the past. The memorization of these poems did not necessarily come easy, but she said she really enjoys reading and writing and it motivated her to keep at it.
“Me memorizing them, it completely changed my view on poetry, and my perspective on writing, and seeing how instinct kind of works,” Faieq said.
Tanaka Mukudzavhu, 14, is a freshman at Boonsboro High School in Washington County, Md., and in addition to playing soccer and volunteering at her church on Sundays, she said she also runs a charity organization called the Tanaka Education Fund, which helps children at the Mazvimba Primary School in Zimbabwe, where her father attended, by supplying books, uniforms, tuition and food for those who need it.
She said she got involved in Poetry Out Loud through her English class, where after performing she placed third, but her teacher loved her recitiation enough to give Mukudzavhu another chance to perform in front of her entire school, where she placed first and went on to be a regional finalist. She chose “Russell Market” by Maurya Simon, “The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti for the competition which she said helped spark a new interest in the elements of poetry.
“I do want to write poetry of my own,” Mukudzavhu said. “Before Poetry Out Loud, I didn’t get into poetry all that much, I actually only read poems in school or in class when I had to, but now since I’m more exposed to poems, I found that I actually like reading poems.”
Isaiah Thomas, 17, is a junior at Arundel High School in Anne Arundel County and was the one student selected as Maryland’s “wild card” regional winner which was set up for schools from all over the state that registered after the deadline as the arts council expands the program. Thomas, who does the morning announcements at his school, said that he is as passionate about motivational speaking as he is about donuts.
As an optimist, Thomas said that he had some difficulty choosing his poems because many of the ones he could choose from were somewhat dark in their tone. After sifting through his options, he decided on “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley and “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy — three poems with more inspirational messages.
“I could easily recite a poem about death, but that’s not really my style,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to talk about a poem that will get somebody down on their knees and weeping; I just want to say a poem that will get somebody up on their feet and ready to go and inspire them a little.”
The Maryland Poetry Out Loud finals is free and open to the public, but the arts council asks that no children younger than 8 years old be in attendance to decrease any possibility of distractions.