This year, fourteen finalists met in the Jenkins Auditorium to perform their poems and compete for first place. Out of the fourteen, sophomore Sarah Oliveira placed third, senior and Blue and Gold editor-in-chief Sara Zakaria placed second, and sophomore Ketshaly Philome won first place.
Poetry Out Loud (POL) is an annual poetry recitation competition that schools all over the country participate in. The competition begins in the classroom, and those winners advance to the school-wide contest. The first place winner of the school competition will move on to the regional/state competition on February 29th. After that, the national finals take place in April in Washington D.C.
English teacher Yahaira Marquez has been the facilitator of the POL competition at the school for the last two years. For her, POL is more than just poetry recitation, it is about “creating a supportive educational community in which students are encouraged to face a challenge” and to be able to build a variety of skills from that, such as public speaking or analysis.
English teacher Jennifer Clapp has also been a big part of Poetry Out Loud ever since it began at Malden High. In fact, she was the person who introduced an all-school competition, expanding POL to outside of the classroom. Clapp expressed that she is “very proud that [they] have the largest contest in Massachusetts” and that both “students and teachers have remained engaged participants in [the] experience.”
During the semi-finals and finals, Clapp does the scoring for each performance. She shared that her favorite part about POL is the “remarkable attention that the audience gives to each performer” which she attributed to everyone in the school participating and therefore understanding how hard it can be to get up on the stage in front of so many people.
Even so, Clapp recognizes getting up on stage as being the most important part of the competition as well. The experience “teaches students about the kind of preparation required to feel confident in that challenging situation,” adding that “confidence in public speaking is a key skill for success in many workplaces- and in life.”
As for Marquez, her favorite part about the competition is when she gets to “witness student growth through the process.” She described the most rewarding feeling to be when a student that started out nervous goes on to have an amazing recitation of their poem “due to the time they put into it and the encouragement they’ve received along the way.”
At the same time, Marquez pointed out that the most challenging aspect of POL can be helping students recognize their potential and the full extent of their capabilities. With poetry, it is about “finding that one poem that truly resonates” so “the process can take off!”
For the school finals, Ketshaly Philome recited “The Song of the Feet” by Nikki Giovanni and “Who Said it Was Simple” by Audre Lorde. Last year, she just recited a poem that didn’t have any real meaning to her, but this year she “got to perform poems that spoke to [her]” and that had significance to her identity.
“The Song of the Feet” was a poem meant to empower black women and give them recognition in the military and workforce, which Philome felt she “really gave a voice to.” She recounted that while performing on stage, she felt “like a different person, more confident, and able to connect with the poet.” Off stage, it can be hard for her to find the assurance to speak up, as she described herself as being an introvert.
Looking ahead, Philome is preparing herself for the regional competition. She is currently practicing a new poem called “The Maid’s Lament” by Walter Savage Landor. The requirements to qualify for regionals are a bit different, the poem has to be pre-20th century and 25 lines of fewer. Philome admitted that memorizing this new poem has proved to be difficult due to the unfamiliar language of the time period that the poem was written in.
In addition to the student portion of the Poetry Out Loud competition, there were also a handful of staff members that joined in on the fun. Thomas Snarsky, Amine Yakine, Gregory Hurley, and Christopher Mastrangelo participated and Snarsky ended up placing first with his recitation of “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly.
After working with POL for so many years, Marquez has come to learn that the competition is really about “pushing oneself through what may seem difficult and allowing oneself to grow,” not just with poetry or English class, but in real life circumstances as well.