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A poetic finish to high school

Woodbury High School senior Yemi Ajagbe will make her second appearance at the National Poetry Out Loud finals April 28-30 in Washington, D.C.

Will the second time be the charm for Woodbury High School senior Yemi Ajagbe as she readies for her second go at the National Poetry Out Loud competition next month?

For the second year in a row, Ajagbe will represent Minnesota in Washington, D.C., at the National Poetry Out Loud finals April 28-30 after having won the Minnesota Poetry Out Loud competition on March 18.

"I actually dropped to my knees and almost started crying when they called my name," Ajagbe said. "It still surprises me that people think I'm good at this."

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.

"I'm still growing into this gift that God has given me," she said. "It's a confidence booster, definitely."

This will be the third consecutive year that a WHS student has advanced to the National Poetry Out Loud finals. In addition to Ajagbe's two showings, 2011 WHS graduate Ian Wesley Taylor also advanced to the national finals.

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.

Ajagbe said she decided to compete in Poetry Out Loud for a second time because she wanted to continue to grow and improve her public speaking skills.

"It was definitely intimidating going to the last national finals last year," she said. "I just saw the great talent, and saw how much I could grow from that experience and how much I could learn and how much I could refine my recitation skills that I wanted to take that and try one more time for my senior year."

The poems

For the state competition, Ajagbe had to memorize and recite three different poems.

"I chose poems that spoke to me and spoke to who I am," Ajagbe said. "This time I also went with what do people need to hear. A poem can change lives."

The first poem that she selected was "Give All to Love" by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"It's about how love is the No. 1 thing and you give everything to it," Ajagbe said. "Love like that is something that I want in my life and that I have because of my relationship with God."

The second poem she chose was "I Am the People, the Mob" by Carl Sandburg.

"It's about how as one collective society we need to remember what happened in the past and learn from it and not make the same mistakes again," she said.

Ajagbe's third and final poem was "Cartoon Physics, part 1" by Nick Flynn.

"This poem is about staying kids," Ajagbe said. "I've taken on all these responsibilities and I'm kind of growing up too fast, so this poem helped remind me that I'm a playful person and I don't want to grow up too fast."

Ajagbe will continue with the same three poems at the national finals.

Second time around

Ajagbe said she has taken a different approach to preparing for the national finals this year. She has reached out to a number of people who are involved in speech, poetry and theater to get critiques and feedback.

Additionally, Ajagbe said she has started watching videos of previous national champions to see what they did.

"But, I'm not going to copy them," she said. "I'm definitely keeping it 100 percent Yemi."

Since this is Ajagbe's last opportunity to compete in Poetry Out Loud, she said she wants to make it count.

"It really is a dream," she said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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