2008 Oklahoma State Champion
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Photo by James Kegley
Hannah Roark was a senior at Stillwater High School when she won the school's first-ever Poetry Out Loud competition and went on to become the 2008 Oklahoma State Champion. She has followed the program ever since, noting, "It has been so much fun to see the program continue to grow at my high school since Ive been in college." Currently finishing up her final semester at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Roark has been busy working on Trade61, a not-for-profit organization she founded last spring to increase awareness about sex-trafficking. After graduation, Roark will complete an internship with the Kansas University Campus Ministry, allowing her to continue to focus on Trade61. "I have a heart to see lasting freedom reshape the world around me," she said, "and I hope that no matter what I do in the future, I will be able to exercise my creativity to do just that."
NEA: What lessons have you learned from your experience with Poetry Out Loud?
HANNAH ROARK: My experience with Poetry Out Loud taught me to share poetry with others. The program provided me with an opportunity to learn that the art of recitation encourages not only personal understanding of the poem itself, but also an experience with the poem. Poetry Out Loud inspired me to share creativity. It taught me not to be afraid of how other interpretations might change a poem, but to embrace the notion that the intrinsic beauty of all art, including poetry, is that the crafter of it merely sets it into motion for others to react and respond to with their own gifts, talents, and intellect.
NEA: What was the highlight of your experience?
ROARK: The highlight of my experience was meeting the other students and sharing our mutual admiration for poetry. It was exciting to be among peers with a passion for poetry. My favorite memory is probably registering for the competition. I was so nervous that I tripped down an entire flight of stairs on my way out of the registration room—in full view of everyone I had been so nervous to meet. My dad caught me on the last step and we walked away as if nothing had happened. It was as funny then as it is now, but I look back on it today as a very memorable way to start the experience! The atmosphere of Poetry Out Loud was encouraging, fun, and stimulating. I count myself blessed for being able to participate. I would not have changed a thing.
Poetry Out Loud shaped my view on poetry immensely. Prior to beginning to recite poetry, it was a form of literature I didn't gravitate toward naturally; however, the process of discovering, delving into, memorizing, and sharing the poems I chose taught me that poetry, like all literature, deserves to be meditated upon for it to make an impact.
NEA: What advice would you give future participants?
ROARK: Love the poems you choose, learn them by heart, and notice how your simple act of recitation can change the feeling of the room. Remember that a recitation should always be transforming; for this reason it will probably change each time you perform. Even though you may alter the manner in which you deliver a line, always stay within the text—it won't disappoint. Most important, realize that what those poems say to you is what will remain after the competition is over.
That being said, it was never solely about the competition for me. I competed because my poems inspired me, I wanted to convey my respect for the poets, and I had a strong desire to see their excellent work come to life in a modern context. I found joy in nearly every stage of preparing for Poetry Out Loud. That joy is what made Poetry Out Loud so wonderful, and because of it I find that to compete for competition's sake would discredit the program as a whole. In my opinion, a love of poetry and a passion to see it come alive should be the motivation for each student involved.
NEA: Do you still remember your poems?
ROARK: Yes! I chose to recite "Fever 103" by Sylvia Plath, "When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be" by John Keats, and "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll. I still recite them from time to time, and "Jabberwocky" has awarded me many fun dinner conversations in college.