By Dominique Daye Hunter
On Saturday, March 7th, student-poets, family members, and judges congregated in the Burton Barr Public Library College Depot Auditorium. About fifty people grabbed refreshments and settled in to watch the 2020 Arizona’s Poetry Out Loud State finals.
On this warm sunny day, I had the honor of being on the finalist judging panel. I was joined by Jia Oak Baker (poet), Hunter Hazelton (educator and poet) and Sareya Taylor (White Mountain Apache/Navajo Phoenix Youth Poet Laureate).
2020 Arizona Poetry Out Loud State Finalists included:
Sophia Crevelt, University High School
Sylvia Dale, Ganado High School
Karen Jie, The Gregory School
Amayah Kelly Willow Canyon High School
Drew Kolber, Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy
Kyley Jones, Phoenix Coding Academy
Oscar Landa Samano, Coconino High School
Riley McKinney, Tucson Magnet High School
Julia Murphy, Arizona Schools for the Arts
Christina Schweiss, Sedona Red Rock High School
*(students in bold advanced to final round)
The students hailed from across the state and read a diverse collection of 19th century poems. Each student’s recitation was as unique as their interpretation of the poetry. The finalists were evaluated on their level of physical presence, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, voice, and articulation. However, after two rounds of performances, only four students progressed to the final round.
Sophia Crevelt (University High School), was among those who advanced to the final round, She spoke with crisp elegance, exhibited excellent posture, and had an outstanding awareness of the poems’ meanings.
Kyley Jones (Phoenix Coding Academy) truly brought new meaning to the mastery of dramatic appropriateness and articulation. Kyley spoke each word as if it were her own.
Oscar Landa Samano (Coconino High School) captivated the audience with his smooth, flowing voice and proper use of dramatic pause and volume.
Sylvia Dale (Diné/Navajo from Ganado High School) seized the audience’s attention each time she graced the stage. Taking deep breaths before each performance, Sylvia spoke the truths of the authors as if they were speaking through her. The words she spoke, written so long ago, felt reborn and renewed with her fiery spirit and moving sentiment.
Sophia placed fourth, Kyley third, Oscar second, and Sylvia placed first and will represent Arizona at the 15th Annual Poetry Out Loud national finals competition in Washington, DC, April 27 – 29, 2020.
At the conclusion of the competition, the students were encouraged by the host and educators to continue their poetic passions. I have been writing poetry sine 2005 and reciting spoken word since 2004. However, this was my first-time judging poetry, and I have to say, it was interesting but not an easy task. How does one quantify passion? Who is to say one’s own definition of dramatic appropriate is not wildly different than the next? Are we not biased to judge in favor of performers whose stories more closely relate to our own?
The host answered all these questions. You cannot quantify passion, and therefore, should have fun with the experience rather than project it as a measure of self-value. Students were encouraged to find their niche in writing and the poetic arts to therefore excel in their crafts.
Each judge was carefully selected to have a diverse background and therefore better represent the backgrounds of the finalists.
It was moving to see the young poets recite their favorite authors and refine the art of the spoken word. Our African ancestors saw the art of poetry as a blessing. It is a gift given to select few to inspire and move the people to action, and to heal their hearts in times of affliction.
The finalists, whether they went to the final round or not, greatly inspired me that day. I saw my 13-year-old self in them and was sure to share words of encouragement with them at the conclusion of the day’s events.
Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” That day, Arizona’s youth poets had the courage to vulnerably share their emotions, through the thoughts and words of those past.
This year’s national Poetry Out Loud Competition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. However, you can learn more about state champion Sylvia Dale and watch highlights from the Arizona state finals below: