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Student's prose proves elite

Woodbury High School senior Yemi Ajagbe competed in the National Poetry Out Loud competition April 29-30 in Washington D.C. where she was named one of the top nine finalists.

This year marked the last year that Woodbury High School senior Yemi Ajagbe could compete in the Poetry Out Loud competition and she finished her run just the way she wanted to.

Ajagbe competed in the National Poetry Out Loud competition April 29-30 in Washington D.C., where she advanced to the top nine finalists. She received a $1,000 scholarship and WHS received $500 to go toward the purchase of poetry books.

"I didn't have any disappointment in not winning," Ajagbe said. "Just getting to the top nine out of 53, and even more before that, was a huge accomplishment.

"I don't have any regrets or disappointments because I think I laid it all out there."

Poetry Out Loud is a poetry recitation competition where students perform poems aloud and are judged on a variety of criteria.

This was Ajagbe's second year competing at the national level.

"The experience of my first year really helped me to be more relaxed and more focused," she said. "My dad always says you can't buy experience."

The first round of competition at Poetry Out Loud consisted of the 53 competitors being divided into three regions.

Ajagbe competed in the third region against 16 other high school students the evening of April 29.

"During the day, I was able to practice  my poems all day, get in the mindset, get in the mood," she said.

During the first round of competition, each contestant recited two poems.

Ajagbe recited ""Give All to Love" by Ralph Waldo Emerson and "I Am the People, the Mob" by Carl Sandburg.

"It was really all about relaxing and trusting in what got me there," Ajagbe said. "The big thing for me was rediscovering my poems in front of the judges and rediscovering the love of my poems that I had chosen.

"I wanted to show the audience the importance of these poems."

The top eight from the region then moved on to the regional semifinals where each contestant recited a third poem.

Ajagbe recited "Cartoon Physics, part 1" by Nick Flynn.

The top three from each region advanced to the National Poetry Out Loud Final where each contestant recited two of their previous poems.  

Ajagbe said she was full of excitement when they announced she would be advancing to the finals.

"It was shock and surprise and relief because that was the whole goal," she said. "I'm really proud that I could make it that far."

Ajagbe said reciting her poems for the last time in the Poetry Out Loud finals was an uplifting experience.

"It was really free and really comforting to know that I did the best I could and left there giving the audiences something that they needed to hear," she said.

Ajagbe said she couldn't have imagined ending her Poetry Out Loud career any other way.

For anyone interested in competing in Poetry Out Loud next year, including her younger brother, Ajagbe shares this wisdom: "You have to put your heart and soul into it. Love your poems and love what you do."

Ajagbe, who will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison next year to study international business and economics, said she hopes to stay involved in poetry in some form, whether that's in recitation competitions or just reading them.

"I don't think I'd be where I am today without Poetry Out Loud," she said. "There so many different things that can be portrayed in poetry -- you can be poetry, you can live poetry.

"To speak it and have it move someone else is the biggest part."

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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