All photos from junior Shuyi Chen; Haset Tesfaw also contributed to this article.
Math teacher Murphy Page’s love for a Walt Whitman poem inspired them to get a tattoo on their arm. “It says Yawp,” Page explained. “One of the lines is ‘I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.’ So, it’s one of my favorites, obviously, since I got a tattoo for it!”
Although Jadelini Mora does not have a tattoo of her favorite poems, she committed some poetry to memory and gave a winning performance for the Malden High Poetry Out Loud (POL) competition.
POL has been a yearly tradition at Malden High School. This year’s competition has had many hard-working contestants starting in an individual classroom competition, advancing to a grade year competition, and ending with a finals competition.
The finalists this year were Jadelini Mora, Makeila Scott, Thomas Conti, Rashmi KC, Kenneth Luu, Kimberly Grace De Souza, Lyra Gold, Henry Fan, Emma Martinez, Allison Yu, Vincent Thai, Nourudeen Mossalam, Alyssa Littlejohn, as well as The Blue and Gold’s Lead Reporter Jessica Li and Reporter Ryan Coggswell.
The event started with all of the finalists sitting on the auditorium stage waiting to be called up, with Yahaira Marquez as the host. Marquez called each contestant on the stage up to recite their chosen poems one by one. At the end of the competition, Marquez announced all of the winners, with the aforementioned Senior Mora in first, and Junior Scott and Freshman Conti tied for second place.
With so many finalists this year, there was a mix of emotions between the winners from when they won their class competition all the way to the finals. Mora explained, “I have a lot of feelings about [winning] because, from the other side as a senior, I have a lot of things to worry about, not that poetry is not important to me. I love poetry, but I have to worry about scholarships, I have to worry about college, and having another thing added to my plate was a lot of anxiety but at the same time I might as well just go through with it and I’m like ‘okay I’m getting that this is another really great opportunity, why not just continue this?’”
Scott shared, “After winning the class competition was when I felt the most nervous because I just didn't know what to expect moving forward.” She continued, “There was a part of me deep down that didn’t want to win and move forward but after winning the semi-finals competition and remembering again how good it feels to be up there is what really gave me that confidence boost that I needed for finals.”
“When I won the class competition it was just amazing because you can tell that all the work that everyone put in paid off. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and everyone in the class competition did great and everyone in the finals did great,” said Conti
POL is a competition that gives people the opportunity to express themselves and speak up about who they are as people. Public speaking, especially on a stage, can be intimidating to many students which is why POL can be so helpful. “Going up there originally is nerve-racking right? You see everyone in the crowd and you realize that this is the moment when you have to perform. When you actually get up there, everything just goes away and you just live in the moment instead of paying attention if you mess up,” said Conti.
Many other contestants felt the same way. “I’ve done POL a few times before and freshman year I got to the semi-finals as well so it’s not too bad, you get nervous obviously but it’s not as bad as it might seem like,” Gold said. When asked about her first experience with POL, Gold explains, “It was a lot more difficult because I was a freshman and that was four years ago and that was a very nerve-racking experience but I knew the poem just as well that time and I wasn’t worried.”
Preparing for POL can be a challenge, which is why all contestants were dedicated and worked hard to memorize their poems. They put their all into the competition so that they could give their best interpretation. “I think I would memorize the poem or I would recite the poem in my head and then act it out,” Mora explained. She continued, “Just kind of test out which main rhythms fit with each stanza best or which tone of voice I should use because I think the voice is a very powerful tool to display what you want that phrase to come out as.”
Other contestants shared a similar process. “The process of getting ready was reading my poem out to my mother and brother every day, all day, nitpicking the finest details,” Scott said. She continued, “I would even skip lunch some days and head to 1st floor Jenkins to recite it over and over again, safe to say my priorities may have been a little bit out of balance but I don’t regret it.”
When picking out poems, teachers recommended students pick a poem that interested them so that it would be a more enjoyable experience. Conti first chose to memorize the poem “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allen Poe. “I think it really connected with me, it spoke to me in a way I couldn’t really explain in words and it showed a lot about myself as a person,“ he explained. Conti continued about his second poem choice, “Contraction” by Ravi Shankar, “My second poem I think I just really looked at society as a whole and I was like ‘this is something that I feel as though needs to be changed’ where people are forced in school to change themselves as people to fit in where they could just be themselves.”
POL is not only a student experience in Malden High, because teachers are also invited each year to have their own competition and recite a poem of choice. In between the teachers' competition, only one winner was announced, Isaac Wilde, but everyone had a great time.
“It was really fun, I like being on stage performing in different ways. It is fun for me. I’ve done poetry readings before, I did theater when I was in High School so I like that kind of thing,” said Page.
Spanish teacher Robert Grinnell said, “I was feeling a little nervous, anytime when it’s just presenting in front of a large audience it is a little intimidating but I enjoyed it. I felt like the students enjoyed it and it was a very fun event.”
With teachers participating in POL, they also had to prepare beforehand which took a lot of work as well. “To prepare for it, I read it out loud a few times and was just going through it in my head constantly. Walking to the bus, walking home from school, and from class to class. It was just the poem over and over and over in my head until it was very much muscle memory. I did a few out-loud presentations before the event but not too much,” student teacher Wilde explained.
Public speaking is not easy which is why contestants of all grades have advice for those who may struggle with speaking up. Mora said, “You will never understand your potential unless you just go for it. It gets easier over time and although you may be scared within that moment you will never really conquer those fears of public speaking if you never try to face them. You’re going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life and so although it might be intimidating at first, just understand that your life requires you to speak up and use your voice to advocate for yourself and others.”
Conti said, “For people who struggle with public speaking I think you have to look at it from the terms of nobody is judging you, at the end of the day when you go up there you’re already doing enough. You’re already up there, and you’re already showing how far you’ve come, so when you have that opportunity just take it and realize that no matter if you mess up or if anything happens while you’re up there you already have exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Teachers also shared their advice: “The more fun you have with it, the better you are and the less nervous you will be. I would say find the thrill of it. No one in the audience is judging you. They’re there to support you. If you mess up they’re there to cheer you on even harder.” Wilde continued, “I know it’s scary, I know public speaking terrifies some people but there’s also a joy in it. It’s fun to be loud, it’s fun to gesture wildly and make funny expressions. If you can find what makes you happy in public speaking.”.
“I would say that you kind of have to just move through the discomfort that trying to avoid that feeling isn’t really going to help but just kind of acknowledging ‘okay yeah this is scary and I’m nervous and whatever’ but choosing to do it despite all of that. I think when you get to the other side and you realize ‘okay, I can do that,’” Page motivated.
POL is here to bring people together and create a safe space for those to show their emotions through literature, gestures, facial expressions, and tones of voice. It’s an opportunity for people to be themselves and have fun.