An interview with NJ Poetry Out Loud Champion Beatrice Dimaculangan

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From New Jersey Poetry Out Loud

TERESA CARSON (Associate Publisher)
How and why did you get involved with Poetry Out Loud?

BEATRICE DIMACULANGAN
I’m a member of the Jargon Club at my school, which produces Dayton’s literary magazine. Throughout the year, we normally only share our writing among a few club members, so when Mrs. Kuszmerski announced that we would be hosting a Poetry Out Loud competition at our school, it was a new way to look at poetry.

Truthfully, I joined out of boredom. I already had a love for poetry prior, but I’d never admired it in the form of memorization and recitation. The way it was advertised, it just seemed like a casual after-school activity, so I signed up on a whim and ended up winning!

TC
What were the highlights of your 2015 POL experience at your school, at the regional competition, and at the state finals?

BD
The highlight of the school competition was definitely being exposed this art form for the first time. Since I’d never joined before, I never realized how much people really get into their poems and make them their own. Each student had a distinct style and presentation and it was so enjoyable to watch and absorb for the first time.

At the regional competition, I received so much support and encouragement from my classmates that attended. When I was announced as one of the Regional Champions, they were so excited for me because it was the first time that Dayton would be attending States. The best part though was when a few other students from the audience approached me afterward and asked for my autograph!

State Finals was the most exciting of the three levels. In the final round I recited “The Universe as Primal Scream” by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith. She was actually in the audience and she approached me afterwards to congratulate me and thank me for doing her poem. Imagine my excitement! I was also given the chance to open the Princeton International Poetry Festival, which was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Being able to speak among poet laureates from around the world definitely elevated my appreciation for the written and spoken word to new heights. (It also happened to be my birthday, so that day was the best birthday present by far!)

TC
How and why did you choose “The Bones of My Father,” “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown,” and “The Universe as Primal Scream ” as your poems?

BD
As I was browsing through the anthology, I thought it was especially important to choose poems that were meaningful to me. After all, how am I supposed to convey emotion to an audience if I cannot connect with it myself? Each individual poem stood out to me because it spoke to my beliefs or thoughts in some way; each piece is somehow a reflection of who I am.

When I came across “The Bones of My Father,” I fell in love. At the time that I was picking my poems, it was around the peak of the Ferguson incident. I’d been marching in many of the protests and rallies and felt very strongly about the contentious issues. I was able to translate that same struggle in the context of black history and project it through another writer’s poetry. It became a very personal statement of my beliefs.

“A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown” is one of my favorites by Whitman. I remember last summer a friend showed me a video on YouTube before I even knew what Poetry Out Loud was.  It was the 2013 POL National Champion, Langston Ward, reciting that poem. I was moved by the vivid imagery and raw intimacy of the words. When I found that this poem was still included in the anthology, I knew I had to choose it and deliver my own rendition.

I chose “The Universe as Primal Scream” because Smith’s examination of the relativity of the universe gave rise to my own existential questions. Do the negligible details in our lives become lost in the grand plan of a greater power, or does that make them that much more deserving of our attention? I enjoyed playing around with this one because of its dynamic range of emotion. The beginning is sarcastic and playful which was a switch-up from the other two serious poems.

TC
What went through your head when you were named state champion?

BD
I was in shock. You can even see in the video that my jaw actually dropped!

I performed among a solid group of very talented students and I thought the competition was tight. When they announced my name, I was initially taken aback and immediately humbled. I knew I would have to honor these students by doing my best to represent New Jersey at Nationals.

TC
What did you do to prepare for the national finals in Washington DC?

Beatrice with Congressman Leonard Lance and National Endowment for the Arts' Chair Jane Chu.  Photo from New Jersey Poetry Out Loud.

Beatrice with Congressman Leonard Lance and National Endowment for the Arts’ Chair Jane Chu. Photo from New Jersey Poetry Out Loud.

BD
I practiced with my mentor, Natasha Yannacañedo. She was an incredibly helpful tool in helping me tweak things here to make my performances as precise as possible without losing their honesty.

I blocked every gesture according to what I felt would enhance the poem without distracting from its meaning, and I specified every image in my head to allow a deeper emotional connection with the words being said. Almost daily, I stood before a mirror and ran through the poems over and over until their entirety has seeped into my bones – until they are a part of me. Sometimes I even practiced in formal attire in order to become comfortable in the outfit I would be performing in.

TC
How do you imagine poetry will be a part of your life going forward?

BD
Poetry has already been a passion of mine for some time now. I’ve won a state poetry writing contest and have had my work published in poetry collections and literary magazines. Poetry Out Loud has absolutely deepened my love for poetry and encouraged me not only to memorize and share it, but also discover and develop my own.

Since being named State Champion, I’ve been invited to perform at the Princeton International Poetry Festival and Something Old, Something New (Jersey) II. I will also be performing a new original in the Hip Hop Poetry Slam at Rutgers University later this month. I plan to keep pursuing opportunities like these that allow me to present poetry in the form of spoken word.

POL has definitely given me the confidence to get up and verbalize intimate writing in front of an audience. There’s no feeling quite like getting behind the mic and unleashing an energy and passion of which I didn’t even know I was capable. I’ve only just begun to explore this art form so I hope to continue growing as a poet and as a spoken word artist.

TC
What advice would you offer to students who might want to get involved in POL?

Beatrice reading at Something Old, Something New (Jersey) II

Beatrice reading at Something Old, Something New (Jersey) II

BD
Poetry Out Loud is not just a wonderful experience, but also an incredible opportunity – seize it. I absolutely encourage anyone and everyone to join. Throughout my journey, I’ve met people who would have never anticipated the experience they’d have. Though a number of the students are poets or performing artists, the spectrum ranges from all the way from athletes to mathletes. There is something to be gained by every participant, whether it is confidence, public speaking skills, or new appreciation for poetry.

Even though POL is undoubtedly a ton of fun, you have to be willing to put in the work! It’s not simply “just” memorizing a poem and saying the words. It can get mentally and physically exhausting if you truly dedicate yourself to hours of understanding and personalizing your poems – so be ready and enthusiastic!

I cannot stress enough how valuable my POL experience has been. I’ve met some brilliant students and have definitely experienced tremendous personal growth. Enjoy every minute of it and just immerse yourself as much as possible. Don’t get caught up in the fact that it’s a competition – there is no competitive tension at all, and in fact, there is a sense of community. Take the time to get to know the people around you because you are all there for a common love of the art and mission to express it.

Overall, take advantage of every aspect of POL. I’ve never joined anything like it and no other experience could parallel its value. I absolutely loved it and prospective participants will too!


And Counting
a poem by Beatrice Dimaculangan

When I try to count the number of things I can count on,
I hardly ever make it to the second hand

But when something finally does beguile my doubts,
kisses on my skin and seduces my hopes
It snatches the string of a helium balloon and is carried off
into an azure infinity

I want to leap up and grab it, cradle it back to the earth,
press it to my chest so it cannot escape again
But it’s hard to reach that high when you’re only 5’2”
So it glides away, doesn’t look back as it burns up in the atmosphere
and I fear I can’t catch all the ashes when they fall

I line them up next to the gods: the Christs and the Shivas,
the shooting stars, the pills,
four leaf clovers,
and dandelions
I stuff them in the lip of a body bag
so they know they are dead to me
Disgraced is their amity when

I can count on my dad – he is always my rock
Even in a hard knock life,
he is the buoy I cling to when I can’t keep my head above water
My father is the only man I’ll be able to count on
to still be there in the morning
His gentle voice like a symphony that sings in me
when I have nothing left to give

My mother’s guidance I can count on
when the choice becomes blurred between right and wrong,
and the worst days seem to drag a little too long
She holds me in the home of her hands
and I can count on them to be firm where I stand
so if my knees buckle, I’ll find a soft landing

And my brother,
I know I can count on those soft eyes, like blooming flowers,
that remind me even the worst days only have 24 hours
I pray that you never lose your kindness,
that you keep your golden spirit, let nothing near it that can
mar its purity – you are my cleanser
I can count on your spine and you can count on mine

We can count on the sky, though it gets gray sometimes,
gets tough to pray to sometimes
In a place where my demons run a 4 minute mile
and my asthma is catching up to me

I can count on my vices but I can’t count on time
I can’t count the times I’ve lied,
but also can’t count the times I’ve tried again
I can count on my pen,
I can’t count on my sanity but I can count on my humanity

I can count on the mountains, the oceans, the clouds, the wind
I can count on the earth to turn,
seasons to change,
clouds to rain,
and the sun to burn

But the truth is, I can’t count on much else
This is the tragedy of being

Daddy won’t breathe forever
Mama’s hands will wrinkle and waver
My brother can’t always be my savior

The mountains will crumble
The sky will fall
Atlas will shrug his shoulders and the earth will tumble
down his back and we will all return to stardust
You can trust that the wind will carry your man
to another girl’s sheets
I can’t even count on my own shadow to
stay with me through my dark times

But that’s okay
I’ll be okay because I’m learning
how to persist

I can’t count on tomorrow but I don’t need to because I know this:
Today I can count 86,400 seconds I will spend above ground
Even if tonight God decides to only let me count up to 86,398
Today, in a world of
no solid lines,
no happily ever after,
and a hell of a lot of uncertainty

I’m gonna make it a damn good 86,398 seconds
And you can count on that.

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News and Events: Week of May 11th

Events

Sarah Bracey White, Woodlands High School (White Plains, NY)
Wednesday May 13th
Sarah is the Keynote Speaker at Woodlands High School Writers’ Festival

Andrea Carter Brown, EP Foster Library in the Topping Room (651 E. Main St., Ventura, CA)
Thursday, May 14th at 7:30 pm
Andrea will be reading with Lisa Sewell

Jack Ridl, 20359 Douglas Road (Interlochen, MI)
Saturday, May 16th, 9am-3pm
Jack will be leading a workshop.  For more information Sylvia McCullough at  sylviamccul@aol.com  (Continental breakfast provided. Bring lunch.)

News

Nin Andrews is the featured poet in this issue of Plume

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Book Press Release: Esther

Esther_approved_cover

ESTHER
A Novel in Verse
by Pam Bernard

Fusing a poet’s voice with a novelist’s narrative craft, Pam Bernard’s ESTHER, is an affecting novel-in-verse that tells the harrowing and transcendent story of a young woman’s struggle against violence and loneliness. Set before a vividly-drawn backdrop that sweeps across the American landscape and recreates a particularly vibrant time in our history, this daringly original work—from an acclaimed poet whose work has appeared in TriQuarterly, Spoon River Review, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, and many other journals—is about family, place, incest, love, hate, survival, and salvation.

“Rather than rely primarily on plot to tell this story, I have developed characters who embody the failings as well as the beauty of the human spirit,” explains Bernard. “ESTHER begins in the early 20th century on the American prairie, and follows the journey into adulthood of a young girl who, in order to endure the dangers of family, escapes early on into the mysterious world of words. And in the broader sense, human time set against geological time serves to frame Esther’s extraordinary experience—stark human reality recast against Steinbeck’s sentient earth, where wind cried and whimpered over the fallen corn.”

Esther is raised on a farm in Kansas, the eldest child of a troubled marriage. When she is still a child, her angry father, Aaron, begins to molest her as her helpless mother, Bessie, turns a blind eye. The country girl accepts her hardscrabble existence, getting lost in her own head, taking refuge in the natural world that dictates the rhythm of life, as well as the pages of the encyclopedia. Her life is sequestered. Then, Aaron announces that he has accepted a temporary job at a logging camp in Colorado. He will take only one member of the family with him: Esther.

As they travel by train across the Prairie, Esther discovers a wondrous landscape. And in the mountains, so discovers something new—love — in the guise of Raymond, a shattered WWI veteran who is haunted by his experiences as Esther is, in her way, by her own. Together, they vow to escape Aaron’s grasp, and when they dare to take flight, unimaginable events unfold. En route to California, Esther disappears into the desert for two days to expunge her body of the vestiges of Aaron’s sins, finding a mystical form of healing along with a devastating sense of loss. In Los Angeles, bustling with nascent possibilities, Esther and Raymond begin to mend, but the fates prove unforgiving. Only by confronting the past will Esther find comfort in the future.

Exquisitely wrought and profoundly moving, ESTHER is a singular book-length poem about memory, loss, and redemption, and how language, incremental and pure, can hold the key to the truths that help us live.

~~~

About Pam Bernard

Pam Bernard, a poet, painter, editor, and adjunct professor, received her MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College and BA from Harvard University. Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and a MacDowell Fellowship. Ms. Bernard lives in Walpole, New Hampshire, and teaches at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Franklin Pierce University.

~~~

ESTHER – A Novel in Verse, by Pam Bernard
Publication Date: April 2015
Price: $18.00; ISBN: 978-1-933880-48-8
Distributed by: University Press of New England (UPNE), 1-800-421-1561 or 603-448-1533, Ext. 255
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Artso find out more about how NEA grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.
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News and Events: Week of May 4th

Events

Sarah Bracey White, University’s Writers Center (Baltimore, Maryland)
Sarah is the Keynote Speaker at the Year-End Celebration of Morgan State, her alma mater.

News

Celia Bland
Selected full-size prints of the Madonna Comix, the image and poem collaboration she created with artist Dianne Kornberg (published by f8 Editions) are currently on exhibit at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, MA, as part of the Berkshire Women Writers Festival.  

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Kenneth Rosen and his poem for the waiting room

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve asked our community to answer three important questions.  Below is poet Kenneth Rosen’s response to the question:

What poem do you recite to yourself when you’re waiting for test results in a doctor’s waiting room?


I don’t know this poem by heart, “The Dog” by Gerald Stern, but I have very strong impression of it.  Like a weave of sad, chiding music that never leaves my head, or of aromas from my constantly urging, never complaining grandmother’s kitchen–that galley where she chopped onions and carrots and tore apart chickens for a pot, wearing my grandfather’s discarded shoes with pieces of their black leather sides cut away, her feet so painfully swollen with arthritis–an impression I’ve renewed and re-strengthened by re-reading the poem for years without its mysterious and vital majesty.   Yes, majesty, ever failing me, especially the apostrophe at the end (which is in boldface), which interrupts itself with a rhetorical, magisterial, self-defeating but honest,  almost biblical injunction.

Part of which I do in fact know by heart, repeat to myself at a doctor’s office when I watch a tiny old woman with a walker, who’s had to travel for over a hour and a half by public transportation on the day following a snowstorm, turned away because she was five minutes more than ten minutes late for her appointment, my wife and I also late but admitted, not to see a doctor, but a desultory and brisk, dismissive physician’s assistant. Because of my rapid-fire jokes, belligerent arrogance, contemptuous condescension, she who was not as easily cowed as the waiting room staff, who weighed me and took my blood pressure, none of which I’d requested.  She tapped my cheek with her latex covered forefinger, gazed at my eyelid for five seconds and said,  “You’ll have to see a specialist for this, an ophthalmologist!”  And then explained, as if I understood perfectly, “Whenever it’s the face…” and billed me afterwards for her two minutes over $150.

Stern’s remonstrance, which I recite to myselfnot as an appeal, but to avoid the doctor’s office equivalent of road rage and to remind myself that like Adolph Eichmann, she was merely following what she understood to be her orders, “Let there be pity, give me your pity./How could there be enough?”

I realized, after writing all this, waiting for my wife to come downstairs for breakfast, that the poem is a psalm, that King David the psalmist was fallen, that I with my rage, my regrets, my powers and powerlessness, am also fallen, like the times in which we have always lived.

-Kenneth Rosen


The Dog
By Gerald Stern

What I was doing with my white teeth exposed
like that on the side of the road I don’t know,
and I don’t know why I lay beside the sewer
so that the lover of dead things could come back
with is pencil sharpened and his piece of white paper.
I was there for a good two hours whistling
dirges, shrieking a little, terrifying
hearts with my whimpering cries before I died
by pulling the one leg up and stiffening.
There is a look we have with the hair of the chin
curled in mid-air, there is a look with the belly
stopped in the midst of its greed. The lover of dead things
stoops to feel me, his hand is shaking. I know
his mouth is open and his glasses are slipping.
I think his pencil must be jerking and the terror
of smell—and sight—is overtaking him;
I know he has that terrified faraway look
that death brings—he is contemplating. I want him
to touch my forehead once again and rub my muzzle
before he lifts me up and throws me into
that little valley. I hope he doesn’t use
his shoe for fear of touching me; I know,
or used to know, the grasses down there; I think
I knew a hundred smells. I hope the dog’s way
doesn’t overtake him, one quick push,
barely that, and the mind freed, something else,
some other, thing to take its place. Great heart,
great human heart, keep loving me as you lift me,
give me your tears, great loving stranger, remember,
the death of dogs, forgive the yapping, forgive
the shitting, let there be pity, give me your pity.
How could there be enough? I have given
my life for this, emotion has ruined me, oh lover,
I have exchanged my wildness—little tricks
with the mouth and feet, with the tail, my tongue is a parrot’s,
I am a rampant horse, I am a lion,
I wait for the cookie, I snap my teeth—
as you have taught me, oh distant and brilliant and lonely.

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News and Events: Week of April 27th

Events

Jack Ridl, Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters (Grand Rapids, MI)
Wednesday, April 29th at 6:30pm
Jack will be reading with David L. James

Pam Bernard, Monadnock Pastoral Poets Retreat
May 1st-May 3rd
Pam will be teaching a workshop on personal narrative and poetry

Carole Stone, Bellevue Hospital (550 First Avenue, NYC)
Sunday, May 3rd at 5pm
Carole will be part of The Bellevue Literary Review Spring Reading

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What poem to recite in the waiting room…

It’s poetry month and we asked our community to answer 3 important questions, one of them being…

What poem do you recite to yourself when you’re waiting for test results in a doctor’s waiting room?

Step-Five-Arrive-Doctor-Office-Wait-Waiting-Room
Here are some of the answers we got.


Danny Shot
Poet

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality…

-Emily Dickinson, “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”


Holly Metz, Writer &
Teresa Carson, Poet and CavanKerry Associate Editor

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

-Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come”


Irene L. Wells
Executive Assistant, New Jersey State Council on the Arts

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul...

Psalms 23:1-6


Mary Rizzo
Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Associate Director of Digital and Public Humanities Initiatives in American Studies and History
Rutgers, Newark 

You soda crackers! I remember
when I arrived here in the rain,
whipped out and alone.
How we shared the aloneness
and quiet of this house…

-Raymond Carver, “Soda Crackers”


Richard Jeffrey Newman
Poet

 From Boostan-e Sa’di, by Sa’di of Shiraz, 13th century Iran

A champion one night could not fall asleep.
A local doctor diagnosed his pains,
“Insofar as he ingested leaves
from the vines proliferating here, I’ll be
surprised if he survives to see the sunrise.
Tatar arrows lodged deep within your breast
will prove less painful than consuming food
not well-suited to your digestion’s ‘taste.’
Let one bite become twisted in your bowels,
and it will bring to nothing your whole life!

That same night the doctor died. Forty years
have passed. The champion is alive and well.

—translated by Richard Jeffrey Newman (with G. M. Wickens)


Jack Ridl
Poet

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

-Theodore Roethke, “The Waking”


Holly Smith
Writer

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles…

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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On Accuracy at Poetry Out Loud, from Teresa Carson

Beatrice Dimaculangan, State Champion, and Sara Zaat, State Runner-Up, from NJPOL

Beatrice Dimaculangan, State Champion, and Sara Zaat, State Runner-Up, from NJPOL

Because of the bad fortune of a snowstorm that caused the postponement of the Region 6 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud competition, I had the good fortune to act as the Accuracy Judge on the snow date. While the other three judges had to evaluate each recitation in six categories, I had only one thing to worry about: Did the student “keep the poet’s language intact for the audience”? Once the student started his/her recitation, I followed along, without lifting my eyes from the text, until the recitation finished. So, throughout the entire time each student was on stage, I had to block out any aspects of “performance” and concentrate on the words themselves. Inaccuracies, which are classified as either “minor” (e.g. “a” instead of “the”) or “major” (e.g. skipping a line), can have a surprising impact on the overall score because they can result in a total deduction of 7 points. As a testament to the skill and commitment of the Region 6 students, there were few “major” inaccuracies—for the most part the inaccuracies centered on confusing pronouns/articles and skipping/replacing words.

Although some people might consider the role of the Accuracy Judge less exciting than that of the other judges, I very much enjoyed the experience. Since this was my first time as a POL judge, it allowed for an easy introduction to the fast-paced judging process. Also, it just so happens that my personality is very well suited to the block-out-everything-but-the-text concentration needed to act as Accuracy Judge. This concentration must be combined with an ability to respond to the recitation itself—for example, patiently waiting until one participant, who had gone completely “off script,” found her way back to the poem.

-Teresa Carson, Associate Editor

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Imago available through UST Press in Manila!

Congrats to Joseph O. Legaspi on the UST Press (Manila) publication of his collection Imago!

imago_COVER-front

LATEST RELEASE:
Imago 
by Joseph O. Legaspi
Php 350.00 (please send order inquiries to ustph.info@gmail.com)

——————

IMAGO is a stunning and, at times, painful love poem to the poet’s Philippine childhood.  Set predominantly in a rural landscape, where folk remedies and beliefs still govern the ways of the locals, these remarkable poems are filled with riveting images and paradoxes—scales of milkfishes are “otherworldly raindrops” while boys wear their sister’s or grandmother’s skirts upon circumcision.  Reading them is like witnessing a sequence of beautiful rituals.  They remind me, once again, of just how much the culture of my and the poet’s first homeland—the one “I never conceived/ of leaving”—is built solidly on preserved customs and rescued traditions: being “baptized by green waters” of boiled guava leaves to remedy the first wounds of manhood, a consultation with a faith healer, a son burrowing his face in his mother’s hair, how it “tickled/ my ears, deadening/ the skeletons/ of nightmares.”  Like a shaman, Legaspi returns the commonplace—those everyday moments we take for granted or have forgotten—back to the ceremonious, and the scars and memories to their dreams.  

—R. Zamora Linmark

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From Champion to Judge: NJPOL 2014 winner Natasha Vargas

Last year’s NJ Poetry Out Loud champion Natasha Vargas went on to win third place in the 2014 Poetry Out Loud National Championship. This year NJPOL invited her to be a judge at the state finals, which were held on March 13 in Princeton. In the following piece Natasha compares the experience of judging to the experience of competing.

Being a judge instead of a participant at this year’s NJ state level Poetry Out Loud competition was an amazing experience. Last year when I was a participant I made a point not to watch the performances of my fellow competitors because I didn’t want to psych myself out. However, this year I got to fully enjoy the recitations given by New Jersey’s talented POL participants. It was a different kind of rush to be the one evaluating rather than reciting poetry. It was also an eye opening experience. When I was a participant, I worried that the judges were evaluating my recitations based on my faults rather than my triumphs. However, when I became a judge I realized that judges are by no means cold or calculating. In fact, I wanted nothing more than for each of the participants to do their best and execute a gripping recitation. Rather than looking for what a participant did wrong, I found that being a judge was more about giving the participants credit for what they did well. After being both a participant and a judge I have confirmed my belief that POL is not merely a competition- it is the organized appreciation of poetry.

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