Poetry Out Loud Contest: 2015

Poetry Out Loud Contest: 2015

Written by Vanya Truong, Staff Writer

There is, at times, a small groan that rumbles through student body at the mention of the Renaissance Rally. The poetry recitation, for the unenthusiastic, seems to last almost an eternity. However, for others,  the rally is a challenge.  A next step in the already nerve-wracking experience that is Poetry Out Loud.  These students, and the others who harbor a love for words, are anxious.

It is lunchtime, and the seats of C-Wing Theater are scantily filled with students. Some are pulsating with nervous energy, others are still with shy smiles. For three days, the nine contestants of the Poetry Out Loud Contest this year met in the cozy room for the preliminary rounds. Each contestant presents two poems to the judges, who score them to determine the top three. The top three will then present on

Sam Balali performing at the Renaissance Rally on Friday
Sam Balali performing at the Renaissance Rally on Friday

Friday at the Renaissance Rally in the gym, vying for the opportunity to represent Pacific Grove High School at the county level.

Some of the students were trained by Mr. Haggquist prior to the preliminary rounds. Golnoush Pak, a senior, remarked on how Mr. Haggquist plays a big role in the contest. “He really helped me with my voice. English is my second language. [He] gives us positive energy and the attitude we need.” It is no question that all contestants have a love for poetry, performing arts, and public speaking. A few have also been involved in school plays. The contest is a unique way to express oneself, and the power of the human voice is admirably demonstrated.

Once on stage, contestants face a panel of four judges, which varied during the three-day long preliminary round. Judges consisted of several current and prior English teachers – Mr. Larry Haggquist, Ms. Nicole Bulich, Mrs. Karinne Gordon, Mrs. Katie Selfridge, Mr. Ken Ottmar, and Mr. Sean Keller. The nine contestants of 2015 were Alex Thibeau, Sam Balali, Golnoush Pak, Malcolm Gringras, Tiffany Smith, Delphie Myron, Monika Worcester, Mohammad Awan, and Maggie Lindenthal-Cox.

Mohammad Awan presenting at the rally
Mohammad Awan presenting at the rally

The black walls of Room C-3 form a vignette, framing the speaker onstage. A lanky shadow is cast on the ground adding a slight solemnity to the atmosphere and muffling the hubbub from outside. Poems are recited with vigor and contemplation, occasional wistfulness, and a variety of subtle gesticulations. Each student has their own style and passion, along with personal ties to the poems they have selected. Everyone seems to enter a trance as they recite, and the audience is given a glimpse at something very raw and fleeting. When the poem is done, contestants offer a curt “thank you”, and the magic has ended. There is clapping and encouragement passed around like “good job!” and “that was beautiful!”.

Started at PG High in 2009, the Poetry Out Loud Contest is sponsored by the National Endowment For the Arts. Since then, PG High has boasted three state champions that went on to nationals: Morgan Brown in 2010, Robert Marchand in 2011, and Arwa Awan in 2013. “[It] says a lot about the culture of our school,” Mr. Haggquist said, adding that “this year was the best crop of students” and expressed his happiness with all the contestants. “These poems you have learned will be with you forever…and I hope you continue to pursue the art of recitation…and love of poetry.”

Fast forward one day, and it is Friday. The top three contestants chosen to perform at the Renaissance Rally were announced in C-Wing Theater after the third and final day of preliminary round. It was an amazingly close competition, with Maggie Lindenthal-Cox, Mohammad Awan, and Sam Balali, chosen, respectively.

The atmosphere in the gym is a golden silence of sorts. Poetry, like all the other arts, is something that can be appreciated as an aesthetic pleasure – and without a definite explanation set in stone. Furthermore, poetry is a flexible medium that appeals to everyone differently because of the numerous ways it can be interpreted.  At the rally, students emit soft murmurs of agreement and awe, and slivers of understanding shine in their eyes as they latch onto something the speaker has said. It may have been a few words, two lines, the entire poem, or just something in the voice. Rita Dove has said that “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” These students have simply been moved. Some will make nothing of it and carry on nonchalantly with their lives, but others just may nurture a new passion, or simply admire the poetry, and its voice, for what it is.

Maggie Lindenthal-Cox at the rally in the gym
Maggie Lindenthal-Cox recites her piece at the rally

Update: At the Monterey County competition on Saturday, February 7, Maggie Lindenthal-Cox was selected as the runner-up. Congratulations to Maggie, and thank you to all the other contestants for sharing their love of poetry with us this year!