Jericho’s First Poetry Out Loud Winner
By ALANNA LEVINE with ARIANNA SCAVONE
Photographs by SAM NEWMAN and ALANNA LEVINE
“It felt awesome to win, but I was definitely shocked. No, I’m not being modest. Out of the 30 contestants I definitely felt I was in the top five, but I truly didn’t think I was going to get second, let alone first!” said junior Christina (JoJo) Xu after winning the Long Island regional Poetry Out Loud competition on February 24.
On January 17, Jericho students participated in our school’s first “Poetry Out Loud” competition, part of the national recitation contest that began four years ago in which students recite a poem of their choice. Two Jericho High School students, Xu and sophomore Raisa Khan, were selected from this school-wide competition to compete in the Long Island Regional competition, held at Stony Brook University.
“I was a little nervous, but it turned out okay,” Khan said of reading Delmore Schwartz’s “Baudelaire” during the competition. “I told myself I just had to let go and do this because I really wanted to win, and in the end I did, and I’m really excited!”
Xu read Walt Whitman’s “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest” and felt a connection to its strong message. “Of course this isn’t a happy poem, but I fell in love with the raw emotion and bewilderment in the speaker’s voice,” she said. “I watched videos of past participants’ recitations on the POL website, so then I got really into it. I didn’t have a passionate or compelling reason to try out in the first place, but when I really got to know my poem inside out, I fell in love with it. I really wanted to perform well, to paint this emotional, evocative war scene in the audience’s minds. I also did this because I wanted to practice my speaking skills because I would always choke up and freeze on stage.”
During the competition, Ms. Allison D’Antonio, Ms. Lauryn McDermott, and Ms. Charu Vardhan judged on content. All three are members of the Jericho High School English Department. Dr. Daniel Salzmen, the department’s head, judged on accuracy and encouraged contestants if they found themselves lost on stage mid-performance. The judges’ standards were based on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, complexity, understanding, and overall performance, with each poem being rated on a scale of one to five. “Be prepared to know your poems well and perform with feeling,” Ms. McDermott advised students before they performed.
The contestants only had one month’s notice to prepare, and although it was open to all high school students, most of the freshmen seemed to have shied away, according to Dr. Salzman. The other contestants included Robert Jenis, Sukanya Jain, Samantha Wong, Andrew Li, Shamik Shah, Sara Salmonson, Yichen Zhang, Emma Mogavero, Suha Syed, Sejal Verma, Crystal Zhang, and Lily Lipman.
Khan and Xu moved on to the regional competition, where they had to recite two poems from memory instead of just one as they did for the preliminary round. “It wasn’t hard at all to memorize more than one poem,” Xu said. “When I memorized them I always had a specific mental image with each line that I’d remember. When I was onstage, I was able to repeat the words and think about my emotions and feelings almost as if I had two minds!”
When previously asked about the February competition, Xu answered, “I’m ridiculously nervous about what I’m gonna see at regionals. No doubt it’ll be much tougher competition. All I wanted was to practice my speaking skills and earn extra credit. I’m thankful for the experience and my new found love of reading poetry!” After competing Xu said she felt “amazed, proud, and definitely a little scared about representing Jericho. I mean, this is the first year Jericho participated in POL, and the first time I ever participated in a large public speaking event!.”
Xu will now go on to compete in the New York State competition, and then hopefully on to the national competition in Washington, D.C. for the chance to compete for $10,000. There will only be twenty contestants at the state competition, two from each regional area. One out of the twenty will be chosen to represent New York at the nationwide competition. “I don’t think I’m going to get first,” Xu said. “The bar is raised a lot higher, but either way, of course I’d love to win. If I don’t, I honestly wouldn’t be that devastated; I originally tried out for the contest just to practice my speaking skills,” said Xu.
The JerEcho wishes JoJo Xu the best of luck at the state competition!