Celebrating Spoken Word with Poetry Out Loud

On January 11, seven Morris Hills students anxiously prepared backstage, waiting their turn to perform their chosen poem for the Poetry Out Loud competition. Poetry Out Loud was created in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts with the aim to educate students about poetry. According to English teacher Mr. Diaz, who mentored all the students in the competition, “Poetry Out Loud is a national competition where students all across America, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia, participate in a memorized poetry recital.” The competition starts at the school-level, and ultimately progresses into the National Finals, where 53 students compete for the title of Poetry Out Loud National Champion, as well as $20,000.

Here at Morris Hills, the seven students who competed ranged from freshmen to seniors. Cindy Herrera, Damia McGowan, Gabriel Korish, Maria Escoda Morales, Sarah McClure, Sybil Gonzalez Sanchez, and Yuvanshu Agarwal all recited poems in hopes of winning of being the school’s Poetry Out Loud Champion. Prior to the actual competition, each student put in hard work to develop their performance. Cindy Herrera described her experience as “definitely a process.”  In order for the performances to be a success, each student had to pick a meaningful poem, memorize it, and illustrate the meaning of the poem within their performance. Although at times the process seemed difficult, everyone found they enjoyed it, with Damia McGowan stating it was “a really good experience.”

At the end of the competition, Maria Escoda Morales was crowned Morris Hills Poetry Out Loud Champion. When asked about winning, Maria responded, “My heart started beating again…I’m happy with the end result and the fact I had this experience.”  Maria will advance to the regional competition. She will competed against other students in New Jersey that also won their school-level competition.

If the ultimate aim of Poetry Out Loud was to educate students about poetry, then it truly was a success at Morris Hills. All of the students involved in the competition found something new to love about poetry, like Yuvanshu Agarwal, who loves the fact that poetry “carries a message that connects to so many different aspects of life.” Throughout her experience, Sybil Gonzalez Sanchez found she loves “performing poetry” because it “has a purpose.” Although poetry might not be appealing to everyone, Poetry Out Loud is the perfect opportunity to explore it. To Gabriel Korish, it was “a great experience to try something new.” Sarah McClure strongly believes that “even if you’re not into poetry,” you should “step out of your comfort zone” and sign up for Poetry Out Loud next year. Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn a little something about poetry and yourself.