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More than just a poem: Students perform poetry at schoolwide Poetry Out Loud competition

Photo credit: Meredith Ho
Junior Bryce Collis recites “A Covered Bridge in Littleton, New Hampshire” by Stephanie Burt. The Poetry Out Loud contestants gathered in the dining hall Jan. 5. to recite their poems to the judges.

Facing a panel of judges, students participating in the annual Poetry Out Loud competition drew in a deep breath and prepared to bring their memorized, rehearsed poems to life. To many contestants, this poetry recital was not just a simple performance, but a representation of their individuality.

Archer participates in the Poetry Out Loud competition, a national poetry recitation contest for high school students. The schoolwide competition took place in the dining hall Friday, Jan. 5.

Students who performed submitted videos of their memorized poem of choice to Poetry Out Loud Coordinator Kathleen Keelty, and a few were chosen to advance to the schoolwide competition. The winner of the schoolwide contest proceeds to represent Archer in the Los Angeles County Poetry Out Loud competition Thursday, Feb. 1, at 6 p.m.

Among the students who performed during the schoolwide competition was sophomore Selah Johnson. She recited “American Smooth” by Rita Dove and “Black Matters” by Keith S. Wilson. Johnson said she chose these two poems because of their deeper meaning, and she likes to imagine a character behind the words.

“I’ve always been a fan of poetry growing up. Last year, I saw some of the juniors do it, and I was like, ‘This is what I want to look like next year — this is what I want to do,'” Johnson said. “When I saw the email for it this year, I knew that this would be a good opportunity to just try it out and see how it goes … I mostly just went into it with curiosity about the other performances and what poems some of the other girls had chosen.

I think poetry is looked down upon as a very frivolous art form. You just memorize a poem when you say it, but in reality, to make an audience feel something in any setting is a lot of work.”

— Allie Yang ('25)

This is Archer’s fourth year participating in the Poetry Out Loud competition. Keelty introduced the program to the school when she joined as an English teacher. She has been involved in the program since 2007, initially joining at her previous school on the East Coast.

“When you memorize a poem, you’re forced to become so familiar with that poem that it kind of becomes a part of you. In some ways, you never forget it … and it can offer you a way of looking at a situation that you might not have seen before,” Keelty said. “The poems that people choose can really speak to them, and it shows me a lot about the student and what the student cares about.”

Among the judges for this year’s competition was senior Anaiya Asomugha, the 2023 Poetry Out Loud regional champion. Asomugha has been part of the program since it was introduced to Archer, and many students have been following in her footsteps.

I’ve been really inspired by Anaiya. I remember watching her perform her poem in our theater class when she won, and then at the schoolwide competition, and later on YouTube,” Johnson said. “I just felt so proud. I really looked up to her as a freshman last year, and I still do. I just knew that’s who I want to aspire to be like.”  

Junior Allie Yang competed alongside Johnson. She recited “Propositions” by Stephen Dunn and “What to Say Upon Being Asked to Be Friends” by Julian Talamantez Brolaski.

“I think poetry is looked down upon as a very frivolous art form. You just memorize a poem when you say it, but in reality, to make an audience feel something in any setting is a lot of work,” Yang said. “I want to be able to move my audience. If we can just get one smile, one nod of the head or some kind of reaction that the audience sees what I’m saying, or maybe sees a new side of themself that they didn’t see before hearing my poem, that would be amazing to just make my audience feel something.”

Students are judged based on two categories: performance and accuracy. According to Keelty, accuracy is more important than most students realize because it is often the difference between first and second place.

“There are no runner-up spots in the next rounds, and there’s really no second chances. You get one round. You get one chance for the audience that you have,” Yang said. “I cannot underestimate my competition, and I cannot underestimate the competition.”

Keelty announced Johnson as the winner of the competition, and Yang came in as first runner-up. Johnson will advance to the next round at the Los Angeles County competition at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Students are encouraged to attend the contest to support Johnson’s performance.

“I felt really nervous. I stayed up late running my poems. I was running it on the late bus, and coming into it, I honestly wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I have to win.’ It wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t win,” Johnson said. “Having seen some of the performances last year, I thought the Archer community was so talented. It could honestly go to any of the people that are on this list of names.”

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About the Contributor
Meredith Ho, Senior Reporter
Meredith Ho joined Oracle as a staff reporter in 2022 and became a senior reporter in 2023. She is on the Archer swim team, a member of the Orchestra Leadership Team, and the co-leader of the Animal Rights Club. In her free time, you can find her riding a bike and hanging out with her friends and family.

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