WHS junior advances to national poetry recitation competition (W/VIDEO)Woodbury High School junior Yemi Ajagbe will bring those words to life May 13-15 when she represents Minnesota in the Poetry Out Loud national finals in Washington, D.C.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
“This is not fantasy, this is our life. We are the characters who have invaded the moon, who cannot stop their computers. We are the gods who can unmake the world in seven days.”-“The End of Science Fiction,” Lisel Mueller.
Woodbury High School junior Yemi Ajagbe will bring those words to life May 13-15 when she represents Minnesota in the Poetry Out Loud national finals in Washington, D.C.
Poetry Out Loud is a poetry recitation competition where students perform poems aloud and are judged on a variety of criteria — including dramatization, understanding of the poem, physical presence, voice and articulation, level of difficulty, accuracy and overall performance.
“The judges told me that I really embodied the poem rather than just a dramatization of the poem,” she said. “I really brought the poem to life.”
Ajagbe qualified for the national competition after taking first place in the state competition March 19 at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul.
A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends is awarded annually at the national competition. Last year’s national champion walked away with a $20,000 scholarship and $500 school stipend.
This marks the second consecutive year that WHS has sent a state champion to the national competition. Last year, WHS 2011 graduate Ian Wesley Taylor Jr. made it to the national competition.
Succeeding at state
A total of 18 contestants competed, including WHS junior Angela Yang who placed second.
During the state competition Ajagbe performed three poems including: Mueller’s “The End of Science Fiction,” “When we’re Old,” by William Butler Yeats” and “Hymn to God the Father,” by John Donne.
Ajagbe said the state competition was an unforgettable experience, especially since WHS English teacher Phil Bratnober brought all of his classes to the competition.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had in my entire life,” she said. “From the moment I stepped on stage I could just hear the cheers; it fueled me to do better and made me want to do better for my classmates.”
Ajagbe said she was nervous during the competition “because of all of the talent in the room.”
“I don’t want to say I never feel confident, but I always feel like there’s someone better,” she said.
“Plus, it’s judges’ preference, so you never know what other people might like.”
When her name was announced as this year’s state champion, Ajagbe said it was an “eruption of craziness.”
Poems with meaning
Ajagbe said she will continue with the three poems she recited at the state competition at nationals.
“I think I found a good match, a good trio that fit together and have some sort of connection to me,” she said. “Since they all have some sort of connection to my life, I feel that I will be able to portray them well.”
Ajagbe said she decided on Mueller’s “The End of Science Fiction” because she felt the message of returning to a simpler way of life – rather than being technology driven – was something the audience needed to hear.
In terms of Yeats’ “When we’re Old,” Ajagbe said she could relate to the message of rejection and sadness.
“I really felt the sadness of Yeats,” she said, “and everyone feels rejection, so I really connected with that one.”
Ajagbe said “Hymn to God the Father” spoke to her spiritual side.
The message of the poem is forgiveness of sins, Ajagbe said.
“I’m a religious person, I’m very deep into Christianity, so it was easy for me to portray because I had a lot of feeling associated with it,” she said. “It was very raw the way I was portraying my sins to the audience – it was very transparent for me.”
Heading to nationals
Ajagbe said she intends to prepare for nationals with continued recitation.
Additionally Ajagbe said she intends to research the poets more and might even meet with last year’s state champion, Taylor, for pointers.
“He’ll have some insight on what to expect,” she said.
Even though Ajagbe expects her career path to most likely lead to business law or medical school, and not necessarily poetry, she said her experience with Poetry Out Loud as been one she will always remember.
“It’s been a dream,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself because I had to find things that I connect to in my life.”