Out of twelve high school students, three reigned supreme in the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest for the central region of Mississippi in JSU’s Student Center on Wednesday, Feb. 7
For the ninth year running, Jackson State’s Margaret Walker Center in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and the Mississippi Arts Commission hosted Poetry Out Loud – a program that encourages high school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance and competition.
“This event every year turns out to be one of the favorite parts of the work that we do. It’s always impressive to see these young people and their love of poetry, and their commitment to it,” said Dr. Robert Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center. “Seeing such a great diverse group across Central Mississippi is really inspiring.
Securing the first place slot was Desiree Roby, a sophomore from Christian Home Educators Connection. Roby, who placed third in last year’s contest, was nearly rendered speechless when she learned that she had won.
“I’m still kind of mind-blown about it. I’m so happy to be here,” she said.
Roby offered a witty and straight-forward recitation of “Snow Day” by Billy Collins and “Thoughtless Cruelty” by Charles Lamb. She explains that she selected “Snow Day” due to the dry humor it contained.
“That’s very natural for me. Then I’ll pick one or two that pull me out of my comfort zone.” Roby said, “I like being challenged. So this, as a contest, is kind of challenging for me, so I’ll do anything.”
She admits that initially she didn’t have an interest in poetry, but now loves it because she can connect with the work and tell a story.
Taylor Mills’s oration of two very moving works gained her the honor of second place. A sophomore at North West Rankin High School, Mills chose the poems “I go back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds and “Poor Angels” by Aaron Hersh.
“I think it’s a good experience. It’s a good thing that gets you out of your comfort zone and it kind of lets you see what you can do,” she said.
The theatre student also said the contest gives her the chance to hone her acting chops and divulged that one of her favorite actors is Oscar winner Meryl Streep.
Mills’s advice to newcomers: “Try your best because you don’t know how good you can be. This whole contest is about discovery.”
Olivia Bond from Murrah High School was the only Jackson Public School student to participate in Poetry Out Loud. However, that didn’t stop the sophomore from snatching the third and final contest spot.
“I was very surprised. I almost cried. I couldn’t say anything. I was just like: ‘Oh, my gosh,”’she said.
The eleventh grader reveals that when she entered the contest, she just wanted to reach someone’s heart. “If I didn’t advance, I would just be grateful that I did what I had to do and God allowed me to get here,” she said.
Bond delivered a confident presentation of “El Olvido” by Judith Ortiz Confer. She said her second poem “The Properly Scholarly Attitude” by Adelaide Crapey resonated with her because it rejects the unequal treatment of women.
“I chose it because it championed women… It’s not about what you see, but about who I am and what I can do,” said Bond. “I think we (human race) can be better. They say the future is female, but really I think the future is human.”
Bond’s mother Cassandra expressed her excitement over watching her daughter become a top three finalist. “I’m glad that God favored her to go to the next level of the contest.”
Ken Bolinsky, state coordinator for Poetry Out Loud, admitted that out of the three regional contests held annually he most looks forward to the event hosted at the HBCU. “It’s been a wonderful partnership with Margaret Walker and JSU,” he said.
The coordinator credits educators for ensuring that each year the kids are better prepared. “They’re a little bit more centered and they know what to expect,” he said. “The quality of the students today was just outstanding. Everyone can go home feeling like they’ve done their best.”
The three winners will advance to the state finals in March, and the champion will attend the national finals in Washington, D.C., for an opportunity to win $20,000.