On Saturday, March 8, eighteen remarkably poised and talented teenagers from across the state competed to become Montana’s Poetry Out Loud Champion. Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation contest created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, with the goal of supporting the memorization and recitation of great works of poetry by young people. Young people, with the support of their English teachers, compete first in classroom competition, then their school-wide competitions before they move on to the regionals, and, finally, the state competition, sponsored by the Montana Arts Council and held this year at Helena’s Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts in Helena.
This year’s winner in a very tough competition was Sowmya Sudhaker from Butte High School, who now moves on to the National Finals in Washington DC along with her teacher, Mr. Doug Ruffier. Sowmya will be coached for the national competition by Poetry Out Loud State Coordinator Margaret Belisle and Montana Arts Council 2014 Artist’s Innovation Award Winner, Missoula-based poet Mark Gibbons.
I interviewed Sowmya after her big Poetry Out Loud victory:
1. Tell us a little about yourself. What activities are you involved in at school? What are your plans after your graduate?
I was born in a city called Mangalore, in India. I have moved to different places several times in my life since I was born. When I was four we moved to Michigan for about two years, and later moved to India again. After a year we went to Mexico and lived there for five years. From Mexico I came to Butte and I have been here for six years now.
I have been in Butte High’s Varsity Chorale for fpur years. I am also in group of top ten kids from the Varsity called the BSharps.
For now, I plan on going to Montana Tech for Software Engineering. After having some experience with the fine arts, I am still unsure of what I truly want to do for a career.
2. How did you get involved in Poetry Out Loud?
My freshman year, I participated in the POL competition representing my English class. However, it was back when I didn’t know much about how the program worked, or what was expected of a participant. I participated sophomore year but didn’t move ahead from my classroom competition. Junior year my teacher did not participate in POL and now senior year, Mr. Ruffier required us to memorize a poem from the POL website as an assignment. After everyone recited, Mr. Ruffier asked me if I wanted to participate in the school competition and I agreed. At that point, I had no idea I would come to the state level!
3. Who is your favorite poet or favorite poem?
My favorite poem would definitely be the first poem I recited at State — “Isla” by Virgil Suarez. Besides having the familiar Spanish language that I truly miss, the poem applies to me at a very personal level. The poem starts with the narrator telling his story of having lived “In Los Angeles… watching the Three Stooges, The Little Rascal, Speed Racer, and the Godzilla movies.” The Three Stooges was one of the first American shows I watched to learn English, like the narrator. The poem continues talking about how Godzilla feels so out of place in the new world it had come to.
“I understood by the age of twelve what it meant to be unwanted, exiled, how you move from one country to another where nobody wants you, nobody knows you,” is probably my favorite line as it applies to me spot on.
As I personally moved to different countries I also felt like I wouldn’t have a chance to settle in a specific place where I could actually fit in. However, I am truly grateful for having experienced all these cultures which have fused into who I am today.
4. Why do you think it is valuable for students to read and study poetry?
Usually when a typical student hears the word “poetry” all that goes through their head is “Boring” or “Oh no, that’s so hard.” I think poetry is essential in students’ lives since it is just as healing as the power of music. Songs that students listen to in their everyday lives have lyrics. Those lyrics are indeed poems, and if one takes the time to understand and visualize a poem in their own interpretations, it is almost therapeutic. After I read “Isla” I felt like I could finally turn my emotions into words and realize I am not the only one who feels a certain way.
What are you looking forward to about the National Finals in Washington, DC?
I definitely look forward to the experience of competing at a national level in anything as this is my first time. It is truly an honor to be able to participate at this level and I know there is plenty that I’ll learn during this trip!
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your involvement with Poetry Out Loud?
Poetry Out Loud gave me the chance to explore various types of poetry out there that I hadn’t really paid attention to. Thanks to Mr. Ruffier’s expertise, I now have the skill to analyze poems better than before. This is and will be a part of me from now on.
Click here to read a copy of Sowmya’s favorite poem, “Isla” by Virgil Suarez.