Aryeh Lax of Steller Secondary School in Anchorage was named the state Poetry Out Loud champion on Tuesday, after reading three poems to a panel of five judges at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Lax was the first to recite in the first round, starting things off with Kim Addonizio’s sensual “First Poem for You.” His powerful yet understated reading captured the audience’s complete attention from the very first line: “I like to touch your tattoos in complete / darkness, when I can’t see them.”
Lax’s second poem was “A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky” by Lewis Carroll and his third was “The End of Science Fiction” by Lisel Mueller.
In selecting Lax as the winner, judges had to pick from among 10 remarkable students who recited poems during the state finals. The poise and intelligence with which all of these kids delivered the poems to the audience was nothing short of stunning. From this audience member’s perspective, there were no weak performances – or even any mediocre ones.
The 10 students, including Katie Jones from Thunder Mountain High School, delivered poems that ranged from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet XV “When I Consider Everything that Grows“ and Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband” to W.D. Ehrhart’s “Beautiful Wreckage.”
Judge Ernestine Hayes, a UAS professor and author, said that both the selection of poems and the recitations of the students made the judging process very difficult, adding that it was an honor to be involved.
“It’s clear that the students invested a lot of work and practice and study, and in every case it resulted in an impressive performance,” she said. “We all have reason to be proud to be represented by these talented and dedicated young people.”
Hayes’ words reflected the fact that though this is a competition, it’s also a celebration, bringing attention to the power of the spoken word as well as the accomplishments of all the young Alaskans who participated in the program.
Three winners were named.
Second place winner was Chaya Pike from Sitka High School, who recited Ha Jin’s “Ways of Talking” followed by Shakespeare’s “Sonnet XV” and then William Mathews’ “Onions.” One of the highlights of Pike’s performance, for this listener, was her beyond-her- years grasp of Jin’s mature words about grief, which includes the stanza “So many things descended without warning: / labor wasted, loves lost, houses gone, / marriages broken, friends estranged, / ambitions worn away by immediate needs.”
Third place went to Whitney Winders from Wasilla’s Colony High School, who read “American Smooth” by Rita Dove, “Bright Star” by John Keats and “Conversation” by AI. Winders’ sonorous voice and confidence reminded this listener of local poet Christy NaMee Eriksen.
Local participant Jones, from Thunder Mountain High School, gave a very strong performance as well, with her rich voice and nuanced delivery of Jean Valentine’s “Sanctuary” and her forceful presentation of William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” ending with the lines “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”
The other finalists were Jessica Andersen from Unalaska City School, Unalaska; Reilly Clarke from Lathrop High School, Fairbanks; Jesse Klejka from Bethel Regional High School, Bethel; Darien Southall from Frank A. Degnan High School, Unalakleet; Brittni Tully-Dapcevich from Revilla Alternative High School, Ketchikan; and Ruby Walden from Tok School, Tok.
As state champion, Lax will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for the national championship. His school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. Pike will receive $100, with $200 for her school library.
Judges for the competition in addition to Hayes were Anchorage poet and writer Don Reardon, a professor at UAA and board president of the 49 Writers; Alaska State writer laureate Peggy Shumaker, of Fairbanks; Anchorage poet, writer and wilderness guide Jeremy Patakey; and poet, journalist and Kodiak fisherman Toby Sullivan.
Poetry Out Loud is an annual recitation contest for high school students. Students first compete in their school, then regionally, then statewide, and finally at the national level in Washington D.C. Students selected their poems from a database of more than 680 classic and contemporary works.
The local competition was presented by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.
For more information, visit www.poetryoutloud.org/.