Yesterday’s Poetry Out Loud Final Competition showcased the talent, skill, and character of BHS students. Eight finalists, selected at last week’s semifinals competition, were tasked with choosing, analyzing, and memorizing two poems to perform on stage to an auditorium full of their peers. With less than a week’s notice, they prepared to fight for the title of 2018 BHS Poet Laureate.
Before beginning the student recitations, the English Department opened the event by inviting Boston-based youth poet Michelle Garcia to perform her own work. After BHS poetry club members had the opportunity to see Garcia on stage at the Louder Than a Bomb youth slam, they knew that their peers would benefit from hearing her words and seeing her perform. So, we reached out with the request and Michelle graciously agreed to open our event by sharing four of her original pieces. Her powerful work certainly set the tone for a morning full of weighty words and impressive presences on stage.
Once Michelle concluded her performance, BHS students were called to the stage to recite their work. The poems they chose ranged from contemporary pieces like Eve L. Ewing’s “to the notebook kid” to classics like Emily Bronte’s “No Coward Soul is Mine.” No matter what the poem, however, the finalists brought their best and impressed the crowd. As BHS students recited their poems, the audience of their peers offered support, encouragement, and respect. If a performer stumbled on a line or struggled to recall the next phrase, audience members responded by offering a string of quiet snaps intended to say to the performer, “you got this.” And the performers did. They had it. Each student honored the poet and the work through their confident and meaningful recitations. They brought life to the words on a page and helped students truly experience poetry as it is intended.
FIRST PLACE WINNER:
Zyann Sharkah: Zyann is a senior who has been a Poetry Out Loud semifinalist for all four years at Burlington High School. This was her her second appearance in the finals. She is a Drum Major in the BHS Marching Band and the Executive Board Vice President of Student Council. Zyann recited Here by Joshua Mehigan and Little Father by Li-Young Lee.
SECOND PLACE WINNER:
Luis Villalta-Santana: Luis is a sophomore at BHS. This year was his first as a semifinalist and finalist in the Poetry Out Loud competition. He performed I am Trying to Break Your Heart by Kevin Young and My Darling Turns to Poetry at Night by Anthony Lawrence.
THIRD PLACE WINNER:
Ananya Gurjar: Ananya is a junior at Burlington High School, and this year was her second appearance in the Poetry Out Loud semifinals. It was her first time in the finals. She is business co-lead of the BHS Robotics team, a chair of the Girl Up board, and treasurer of SACA (Students for Asian Cultural Awareness). Ananya recited Please Don’t by Tony Hoagland and Sheltered Garden by H.D.
Maria Benny: Maria is a Burlington High School sophomore, a second-time semifinalist, and a first-time finalist in the BHS Poetry Out Loud competition. Maria performed She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron and I Sit and Sew by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson
Emily Campagna: Emily is a junior at Burlington High School. She has been a Poetry Out Loud semifinalist twice and is entered the final competition for the first time this year. A poet herself, Emily is a member of Poetic Ramblings, the school’s poetry club and slam team. She recited to the notebook kid by Eve L. Ewing and Propositions by Stephen Dunn
Mikaila Gnerre: Mikaila Gnerre, has been a semifinalist in both of her years at BHS. A current sophomore, Mikaila is an active member of the school’s poetry club and slam team, Poetic Ramblings. She performed Meeting Point by Louise MacNeice and No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Brontë.
Ivy Saltsman: Ivy, a senior at BHS, is a four-time Poetry Out Loud semifinalist and a first-time finalist. She is active in theater, music, poetry, and civic engagement through various clubs and activities at BHS. She performed On Virtue by Phyllis Wheatley and to the notebook kid by Eve L. Ewing.
Grace Visco: Grace is a sophomore at Burlington High School. Though this is her first year as a Poetry Out Loud semifinalist and finalist, she is no stranger to the stage. Grace is active in BHS theater, Poetic Ramblings, Idle Hands, and GirlUp. Grace recited I Am Offering this Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca and Caged Bird by Maya Angelou.
Michelle Garcia is a Latina Boston-based slam poet and a current freshman at UMass Lowell. Her poetry, which explores social justice topics as well as personal experiences and her journey to discover her roots, has brought her to many stages across Boston. She has featured for venues such as The American Arts Conference, Teach for America, and The Institute of Contemporary Arts. One of five selected among 300 poets, Garcia has twice represented Boston in the international poetry competition Brave New Voices. She has been a Grub Street fellow, a Youth Spoken Word intern, and a member of the MassLEAP Board of Directors. Michelle also served as our guest poet for the day. She opened the event by performing four original pieces.
Callie Graham is the BHS Teacher Librarian, and she will be serving as our accuracy judge today. Having been a member of the BHS English Department for thirteen years, Ms. Graham is very familiar with the Poetry Out Loud program and the work these students put into their performances. As a co-advisor for the BHS poetry club and slam team, Ms. Graham is passionate about poetry and a strong supporter of youth poets.
Marisa Jones has been the Huntington Theater Company’s Education Associate since 2012. A graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Arts in Education program, Marisa is a scholar of the arts and a seasoned educator. Whether writing curriculum guides for the Huntington’s Student Matinee series or developing the first open caption event at the theater, Jones works to ensure that everyone has access to the arts.
Nicole Monk is the Young Adult Librarian for the Burlington Public Library, a literacy advocate, and an avid reader. She works with Burlington youth to encourage a passion for reading and aims to make their experiences with books positive. Organizing and implementing summer reading programs for children and adults, facilitating the Youth Volunteer Program, and visiting schools to present reading events are just a few of the ways she supports the Burlington community.
Nathan Piccini is the History Department Chair at Austin Preparatory School and a member of the Burlington Cultural Council, our local chapter of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Mr. Piccini’s work with this organization ensures that Burlington has quality cultural events and that we, as a community, encourage and promote artists.
We are grateful to the faculty and staff at Burlington High School for their continued support of this program and their dedication to ensuring that students have enriching experiences in school.
We are so appreciative of the generous community support necessary to run this program. Wegmans in Burlington donated the luncheon. True North assisted with prizes. BCAT filmed the performance and streamed it live. A Whole Bunch Flower Market donated the laurel crown.