Asomugha wins schoolwide Poetry Out Loud competition, advances to regionals


Photo credit: Sydney Tilles

Junior Maia Alvarez recites her selected poem for upper school students and judges. Archer’s upper school students gathered in the dining hall for Poetry Out Loud presentations Monday, Jan. 9.

By Cadence Callahan, Voices Editor

Upper school students gathered in the dining hall during a US-FLX Block for the schoolwide Poetry Out Loud competition, where classroom winners competed against each other to advance to the regional competition. Junior Anaiya Asomugha won this schoolwide competition.

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation competition where high school students choose from a selection of poems available on the competition’s website. Archer has been participating in the competition for three years.

Upper school students participated in classroom competitions, where faculty and staff judges selected a winner. Sophomore and junior students were required to memorize a poem from the site, but they weren’t required to participate in the competitions.

During the schoolwide presentation, the competing students underwent two rounds of presenting. First, they recited the poems they memorized for their classroom competitions, and then they recited an additional poem they learned in the weeks prior.

Asomugha recited Gwendolyn Brooks’ “a song in the front yard” and Michael Ryan’s “Self-Help.” She said she chose to participate in the competition because she loves poetry.

“We were all encouraged, but I always choose to participate because I love poetry, and I have since I was in the fifth grade when I started writing it. So, any opportunity I can take to participate in Poetry Out Loud, I do,” Asomugha said.

English teacher Kathleen Keelty oversees Archer’s participation in the program. Keelty brought the competition to Archer three years ago, and she believes it provides students with more opportunities to interact with poetry.

“I feel like there’s not enough opportunities for students to really dive into poetry simply because it doesn’t always fit into our schedule or it doesn’t fit into specific goals,” Keelty said. “Oftentimes, we will do some poetry, but there’s never really enough time for a student to really own a poem. When you have to memorize and perform it, you own it — it becomes a part of you.”

While presenting, students were judged on performance and accuracy. Archer’s panel of judges included English teacher Stephanie Nicolard, Student Services Administrative Assistant Cori Morris and Dean of Student Life, Equity and Inclusion Samantha Hazell-O’Brien.

“The performance judge has to decide how accurate was the student was in conveying the message of the poem, how was their voice and articulation [and] their stage presence. The accuracy judge has to ignore the way the person performs and only look at whether or not they’re exactly right,” Keelty said. “So, many times, students who are excellent performers don’t win because the accuracy score kills them.”

Junior Remi Cannon, who was first runner-up, said that despite her participation in Archer’s theater program, she felt nervous presenting on Monday.

“I’ve been in theater my whole life and performing in front of large audiences, but I don’t think that has combated any of the nerves I get getting up on stage,” Cannon said. “But all my peers were supportive, and they made me feel a lot better afterward. Theater in general has definitely prepared me to recite poetry in a way I think judges might be looking for.”

Asomugha advances to the regional competition, where she’ll compete against high school students in the Los Angeles area. She said she is nervous but excited to speak with last year’s national winner Mia Ronn (’23) about the process, and she encourages everyone to participate in the contest when they have the opportunity.

“I highly encourage everyone to participate in the competition next year, even if you haven’t done poetry in a while, or you’ve never tried reciting poetry,” Asomugha said. “It’s a great experience to learn something new about yourself, whether that’s by the way you interpret the poem or how you feel on the stage.”