TERESA CARSON (Associate Publisher)
How and why did you get involved with Poetry Out Loud?
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!
What were the highlights of your 2015 POL experience at your school, at the regional competition, and at the state finals?
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!)
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?
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.
What went through your head when you were named state champion?
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.
What did you do to prepare for the national finals in Washington DC?
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.
How do you imagine poetry will be a part of your life going forward?
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.
What advice would you offer to students who might want to get involved in POL?
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!
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,
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.