Poetry Out Loud!


From the left: Mr. Diaz, Emily Hao, Emilia Szczepaniak, Calliana Kim

Morris Hills senior Emilia Szczepaniak has officially been named the MH Poetry Out Loud champion. Mr. Diaz, a MH English teacher, with the support of Ms. Bauer, hosted and organized Poetry Out Loud. The competition occurred on Jan. 13 during the last block in the Morris Hills auditorium. Emilia competed alongside senior Emily Hao and junior Calliana Kim. Mr. Ellis, Mrs. Russo, and Mr. Isza judged for interpretation. English teacher Mrs. Sanchez checked for accuracy.

“She will learn that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff, he will not fall unless he notices his mistake.” This is a line from the poem “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn, performed by the Poetry Out Loud champion. Flynn’s poem is about how cartoon characters, like Looney Tunes’ Road Runner and Wile. E Coyote, defy the laws of physics. It is also about the naivety of children who believe this is reality. Emilia recalls her time in Polish school during which she and her classmates would memorize and act out poems in Polish. From 2nd to 5th grade, she participated in recitation contests which nowbring back fond memories. She would choose a children’s poem to learn by heart, often a fun piece. She channeled her past skills to work on interpreting and memorizing her poem with Mr. Diaz. An Academy student and STEM enthusiast, Emilia was intrigued by the title, and once she read the actual poem, she found that it was an amusing and lively piece. 

“We don’t explore poetry enough,” she opined. “Many think it’s just tedious. The cool thing about poetry is that everyone can understand something. It’s all open to interpretation.”

All of the contestants dedicated time after school and during winter break to master their poems. While Emilia was initially hesitant to join, she was urged by her friend and opponent, Emily Hao, to try it out. Emily offered words of encouragement at the competition, telling Emilia, “the audience wants the best of you.” With support, dedication, and a fiercely positive attitude, Emilia’s work paid off. 

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of poetry for high school students. They offer free materials and their recitation competition. National competition contestants have the opportunity to earn a $20,000 award along with money for their school. Morris Hills first hosted its school competition in 2017. This was its fourth year following a pandemic hiatus.

For the regional competition, Emilia prepared two additional poems, “Strange!” by John Frederick and “Epilogue” by Robert Browning. Much like her first poem, these pieces were theatrical and fulfilled competition requirements.

Mr. Diaz shared, “I am most excited to see how much she grows and evolves from the poetry and rehearsal. I would hope she makes it beyond the regional competition, but I don’t think that is indicative of her actual success. She has won in a lot of capacities and she will continue to win because she has dedicated time to something that no one else is really doing.”

The regional competition was on Feb. 15 at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ. Emilia, despite giving a compelling and accurate performance, did not win. The winners of regionals will perform their selection of poems at the Count Basie Center for the Arts on March 6th, 2023. 

Although she did not win state regionals, Emilia Szczepaniak was satisfied with her performance and overall enjoyed the experience. She encourages all interested Hills students to try out for the Poetry Out Loud competition next year.