By Alex Ng, Chief Photographer
Kennedy has always demonstrated exemplary talent in the national poetry competition, Poetry Out Loud. Ramona Sovereign in 2011-2012, Henry Molina in 2012-2013, Jibril Kyser in 2013-2014, Alena Dillon in 2014-2015, and Kaitlyn Kui in 2015-2016 moved on from the school competition to compete against numerous students from other schools around the area. This year’s school-wide competition at Kennedy showed no less than the quality of work as demonstrated in the past years, concluding with the choice of a first and second place winner. Alexa Mark (senior) earned first place with her recitation of “I Sit and Sew” by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson. Second place went to Kaitlyn Kui (Junior) reciting “The Golden Shovel” by Terrance Hayes and third place went to Kiana Lee (Senior) reciting “To Have Without Holding” by Marge Piercy.
This year’s school competition featured a total of 41 participants, and two of JFK’s alumni and winners of the Poetry Out Loud competition, Kyser and Sovereign, returned to help judge the competition, alongside Kennedy’s very own Mr. Fry. Jonathan Oliver, another Kennedy alumni, also returned, working with Mr. Campos as an accuracy judge.
With the extensive number of students participating, the competition was packed with recitations. Mr. Phanthai invited numerous English classes to the event, allowing many students to listen to a wide variety of poems every period. Mr. Phanthai was absolutely gratified with the turnout this year, exclaiming, “We have really strong competitors who are exceptionally bright … a lot of them were so good that I think our competition is better than the county.” He has been hosting the competition for 5 years now, and says, “[The competition] changes from year to year because Poetry Out Loud changes the poems on their database … it was nice to see some classic poems, as well as some modern, current poems, and see a wide range of different abilities.”
Shortly after the competition, The Clarion interviewed Alexa, the first place winner.
Clarion: How did you choose your poem?
Alexa: I chose my poem by sorting through the poets on the POL website. I was specifically looking for a woman of color (unfortunately there’s a very limited number on the website) and came upon Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson. I read ‘I Sit and Sew’ and I just really liked the powerful feminist message.
Clarion: What is your process for memorizing?
Alexa: My process for memorizing is to go over the poem any chance I get. I also wrote it out from memory to make sure I got every word correct.
Clarion: What do you think of the Poetry Out Loud competition?
Alexa: I think Poetry Out Loud is a fantastic program. It can bring people out of their shell and foster a greater appreciation for poetry. I highly recommend it; you may surprise yourself.
Clarion: How do you conquer the fear of standing in front of such a large audience and recite a poem?
Alexa: Before going onstage, I take deep breaths and try to shake out all my nervous energy (it sounds ridiculous but it works). In all honesty, I still have that fear and probably always will. But in the end there’s something that has to be done. All the audience wants is to be entertained.
Alexa will be moving on to the Sacramento County level competition, where she will compete against students from schools in the Sacramento area. There are high hopes for Alexa, and a pride bestowed to her as she goes on to represent Kennedy.
Mr. Phanthai shared some compelling thoughts on the competition and poetry itself,“…it really prepares students in terms of analyzing poems, annotating poetry, and understanding spoken words. As well as competition, and understanding literary devices. As well as gaining a profound knowledge of literature from different authors, from different work, and from different genres.” He continuously advocates for students to try poetry, and for those passionate about it to compete in next year’s competition.