POETRY OUR LOUD: Beatrice Dimaculangan (left) and Sara Zaat were selected from 12 outstanding high school students from New Jersey who competed in the state finals of the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition in Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University on Friday, March 13. Ms. Dimaculangan, who attends Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield was selected as State Champion; Ms. Zaat, a student at Mahwah High School was the runner-up. Ms. Dimaculangan will go on to represent New Jersey at the National finals in Washington, D.C. next month. For more information, visit: www.poetryoutloud.org. (Photo by L. Arntzenius)
In its tenth anniversary year, the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition for high school students knocked the socks off a Princeton audience at Richardson Auditorium on Friday at the opening of the Princeton Poetry Festival.
Twelve students, selected from some 38,000 at 162 high schools statewide, read poems in two rounds before four were selected for a final round.
Once upon a time, recitation and elocution were subjects widely taught in schools. No more. But their value is recognized nationwide throughout the Poetry Out Loud competition that began in 2005 and continues to grow in popularity, particularly in New Jersey.
According to Nick Paleologos, executive director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the state ranks first in the nation for student and teacher participation in Poetry Out Loud and the New Jersey program is the fastest-growing nationwide. When it was first launched, just seven high schools participated. Today, 160 high schools across the state take part.
Created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud state competitions take place in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
The competition began as a way of encouraging high school students across the country to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. The selection of poems that each of the 12 candidates selected Friday shows that the program has achieved its goal, at least as far as New Jersey is concerned.
Mr. Paleologos expressed special thanks to Robin Middleman, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts senior program officer; the program’s state coordinator Tammy Herman, and John Pietrowski of the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey.
“Just imagine every high school in the state doing this,” said Assistant Secretary of State Carol Cronheim, as she presented a special video about the program.
The participating New Jersey high school students were Amos Koffa of Burlington County Institute of Technology in Medford; Jocelyn Hedgeman of Cobblestone Home School Association, Deptford; Lauren Palmieri of Hanover Park High School, East Hanover; Aaleah Oliver of High Tech High School, North Bergen; Beatrice Dimaculangan of Jonathan Dayton High School, Springfield; Dennis Harrington of Madison High School, Madison; Sara Zaat of Mahwah High School, Mahwah; Margaret Dods of Mainland Regional High School, Linwood; Nicole Jenkins of Piscataway High School, Piscataway; Patrick Monaghan of Red Bank Regional High School, Little Silver; Georgiana Balisage of Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy, Elizabeth; and Angela Benson of Vineland High School, Vineland. Each had competed for the place on the Richardson stage in six regional finals.
Each of the 12 delivered two poems in two rounds before the competition whittled them down to just four by this year’s competition judges: Danielle Constance of the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey; poet and author Dawn Potter; performing artist Alysia Souder; last year’s Poetry Out Loud New Jersey winner Natasha Vargas, and poet and educator Peter Murphy.
The four who made it though tough competition to the third and final round were Ms. Dimaculangan, Mr. Harrington, Ms. Zaat, and Ms. Balisage.
Another reading before Mr. Paleologos announced the winner and runner up as Ms. Dimaculangan and Ms. Zaat, respectively. The popular decision was met with cries of joy from a large contingent from Jonathan Dayton High School that had come to cheer on their champion. Ms. Zaat’s aunt and grandparents were also seated in the audience and were very excited by her performance.
The contestants recited works classic and contemporary, both familiar and new to the Princeton audience: from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Shelley’s “Ozymadias” to “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview” by Gary Soto and “The Universe as Primal Scream” by Tracy K. Smith, who was in the audience to hear her poem read by two students. One of the two, Ms. Dimaculangan presented Ms. Smith’s poem as her last reading before being announced as the winner.
As part of a new initiative by the state’s Poetry Out Loud team, which clearly upped the game of all those taking part this year, six mentors worked with each of the 12 contestants to hone their delivery skills.
Poetry Around the World
The event kicked off Princeton University’s 2015 Princeton Poetry Festival, a biennial event that took place Friday and Saturday. Poets from around the world read from their work and joined in panel discussions in Richardson Auditorium.
Organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon under whom poetry thrives at The Lewis Center for the Arts with professors who, like Ms. Smith, are also highly regarded poets, including Michael Dickman, James Richardson, Susan Wheeler, and Monica Youn.
This year, 12 poets representing four continents participated, seven from the United States and five from abroad. The U.S. poets were Ellen Bryant Voigt, Major Jackson, Maureen N. McLane, Ada Limón, Michael Robbins, and Ray Young Bear. International poets included Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, British poet Paul Farley, Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort, Polish poet and translator Tomasz Rózycki with translator Mira Rosenthal, and Vietnamese poet Ocean Vuong.
On Friday afternoon at the Gala opening of the festival introduced by Mr. Muldoon, Ms. Dimaculangan and Ms. Zaat read along with the festival poets. Ms. Dimaculangan will represent New Jersey in the Poetry Out Loud national competition next month in Washington, D.C.
For more information, visit: www.poetryoutloud.org.