High school students recite poems for $20,000 prize

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Alex Cohen.

Photo courtesy of Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of the official Facebook page for Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest.

For a handful of high school students Thursday, poetry reading wasn’t just a hobby – it was a high-stakes competition with a top prize of $20,000.

Arlington High School senior Anita Norman won the annual Poetry Out Loud National Finals held in Lisner Auditorium with her reading of Francis Ellen Watkins Harper’s “Let the Light Enter.”

The event, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, included performances of poems ranging from John Donne’s “The Canonization” to Jack Collom’s “Ecology.”

Neda Ulaby, an arts and culture reporter for NPR, hosted the competition that was part of National Poetry Month. She said the students who performed were not only reciting poems but also offering their interpretations of them, and each contestant brought a bit of him or herself to the famous works.

Thomas Fields, a student from St. Louis University High School in Missouri, sprinkled his rendition of A.E. Stallings’ “Sestina: Like” with comedy, prompting the audience to laugh after hearing a series of more serious poems. He also read T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Nine students competed in the finals after outperforming 43 other semifinalists Tuesday night.

The final round came down to Natasha Vargas, a senior at Lawrence High School in New Jersey, Lake Wilburn, a junior at Centennial High School in Ohio, and Norman.

Norman stood out as she poignantly recited her poem to the audience members, who were captivated by her deliberate performance. Second-place winner Wilburn went home with $10,000 and Vargas won $5,000.

Those who didn’t make it to the top three took home $1,000 awards, while their schools received $500 to buy poetry books.

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