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South Valley Journal

Poetry Out Loud, Herriman High wins loud and clear

May 08, 2019 04:55PM ● By Jet Burnham

Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal workshops with creative writing students at HHS. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

“Harold’s Chicken Shack #86” by Nate Marshall is a poem about how names are often abbreviated, resulting in a loss of identity. Jaruwat P. Maendl, a senior at Herriman High School, can relate. He usually goes by J.P.

“There is a bit of turmoil there,” he said. “There is stuff that is J.P., and I feel like there is stuff that is Jaruwat, and going by one or the other, I still lose something either way.”

Maendl finds poetry he can relate to for performance outlets such as poetry slams and Poetry Out Loud.

“I feel at home on a stage, sharing my story using someone else’s words and my own words—It just feels natural, which is something that I’ve been looking for, and I’m glad I found it,” he said.

Maendl took first place in a recent poetry slam scholarship talent show and also placed in local Poetry Out Loud (POL) competitions. He won HHS’s POL competition as well as first in the region competition to advance to state.

To compete in Poetry Out Loud, high school students chose two to three poems from POL’s anthology of nearly 600 classic and contemporary poems, memorized them and then performed them for judges who rated them on performance and accuracy.

Maendl said he always looks for poems that are lighthearted and that he can relate to.

As a wrestler, Maendl follows a strict diet, giving up sweets and other foods to maintain weight. He chose to recite the poem “On Quitting” by Edgar Albert Guest, which tells of the grit and self-discipline necessary for quitting something. 

“People do talk like they can quit something, but it is actually insanely hard when you try and you have to be able to stick to it,” he said. “I felt like a had a little bit of authority to speak on the topic, but I also just appreciate it because that’s what it felt like when I was doing wrestling.”

While he felt a connected to Guest’s and Marshall’s poems, Maendl struggled to relate to a pre-20th century poet, which is a required poem in the POL competition.

“I think that’s the point—to get you to look at something you wouldn’t otherwise have looked at,” he said. “It’s to get you to read and discover something you would have otherwise just looked over and written off.” 

Sally Wilde, HHS creative writing teacher, said while poetry is part of the curriculum in language arts classes and AP English, students don’t learn it for the love of poetry—they are too busy analyzing it.

The goal of Poetry Out Loud is to spark students’ interest in poetry through exploring the works of great poets. It was created in response to a wealthy woman who left her money to The Poetry Foundation with instructions to use it to get kids excited about poetry.

Wilde is a region coordinator for POL and believes the program is a great experience for students who participate, whether it is for the love poetry, history, theater, or whether it’s for extra credit in their English class.

“It encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation,” said Wilde. “It gives students the ability to master public speaking. It builds self-confidence and also helps them learn about literary history and how those poems relate to their lives.”

Thirty-two high schools participated in Poetry Out Loud school and regional competitions around the state. Lucy Quinn of North Sanpete High School took first place at the state competition and will represent Utah at the national championship April 30–May 1 in Washington, D.C.

Each school who had a student qualify for state Poetry Out Loud earned a visit from Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal. Rekdal teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Utah and has published nine books. Her poems are part of the POL anthology and she is a judge for the competition. 

Part of her role as Poet Laureate is to help people have a more positive view of poetry.

“Most people hate poems, and they get scared of poems—they think of it as a kind of upper-division math course or something and it’s not,” she said. “We go to poems for weddings, for funerals, for births for deaths—for some of the biggest moments in our lives. But we should also be able to go to poetry for the smallest moments of our lives because there’s a poem for pretty much every kind of emotion you could have, every kind of desire you can have.”

In Rekdal’s workshop with two creative writing classes at HHS, she introduced them to erasure poems. They learned to borrow language from historical documents, playing with the words and phrases to say something they didn’t expect they could say. She said the same technique can be used with any text, even from words on a cereal box.

“You can surprise yourself realizing there’s really interesting language out there that you never thought about using yourself,” she said. “Sometimes coming up with your own language is tough, but sometimes you do have something to say about what’s happening right now.”