Kanoa wins school level Poetry Out Loud contest


Photo by Faith Owan

Senior Kiana Kanoa won the school level of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest with “A Poison Tree” by William Blake.

Senior Kiana Kanoa is the school level champion of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, and will be competing at the state level at Tenney Theater at St. Andrew’s Cathedral on Oʻahu on Sunday, Feb. 21.

KS Maui English and Language Arts teachers Ms. Naomi McCall, Ms. Noelani Yatsushiro, Mr. Michael Oliver, Ms. Kye Haina, and Ms. Camille Romero held class contests in which students recited poems from the Poetry Out Loud Anthology. Class winners were eligible for the school competition.

Co-coordinator of the Poetry Out Loud school event Ms. McCall said that the purpose was to generate student interest in poetry and in performance.

“I think it could be good for this school,” Ms. McCall said. “It gives students an opportunity to do something a little different.”

Although there were multiple classroom winners, only two students showed up to compete in the school contest held in Ms. Romero’s room: Kiana Kanoa and freshman Brennan Mendez.

“I wish that there was a bigger [turnout],” Kanoa said.

Kiana competed in her British Literary Survey class as an extra credit opportunity, winning with the poem “A Poison Tree” by William Blake, which she also performed at the school competition.

Student reciters are judged based on their physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, and overall performance. The competition between Kanoa and Mendez was tight.

“I was impressed with how well they did,” Ms. McCall said.

Kiana said that even though she was glad that she won the school competition, she thought that Mendez “would have been a great representative for our school as well.”

“He was really, really, good,” Kanoa said. “I thought that his poem was amazing, and it really felt like he was feeling the poem.”

Brennan Mendez said that he got more interested in the contest when he discovered the opportunities and prizes winners could receive, and started to take it more seriously than just a class assignment.

Mendez said that he was surprised that he won his class contest, but was “super excited for the next competition.” At the school event, he was nervous to compete against just one person.

“So, as we presented, I went first, she went second, and I felt good, but after her poetry performance, I knew I had no chance against her,” Mendez said. “I felt like I should’ve practiced more.”

Despite his loss, Mendez said that it was a great experience, and is thinking of competing next year.

“I loved the competition, surprise, and excitement I got during the ride,” he said.

As for Kiana, she’s practicing hard in preparation for the state event. State level competitors pick three poems to recite to include one that’s 25 lines or less and one that was written before the 20th century. Kiana’s three poems will be: “A Poison Tree” by William Blake, “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost, and “When I was One-and-Twenty” by A.E. Housman.

“I just thought that all of them had a similar theme…of just not being a hopeless romantic,” Kanoa said.

There are three rounds at the state level—one poem for each round—and Kanoa has been practicing her first poems for two months. She only recently picked her last poem (“When I was One-and-Twenty”) after winning the school contest. She said that she’s confident in her first two, but still has some work with the last one.

“I think that I need to have an outstanding representation of ‘When I was One-and-Twenty’ because it’s my final poem,” she said.

If Kiana wins at the state competition, she’ll receive $200 and an all-expense-paid trip with an adult chaperone to the national finals. Kamehameha Maui would also get $500 to purchase poetry materials. Runners-up win $100, and their schools get $200 for poetry materials. Other than the possible prizes, Kiana is looking forward to the state level experience.

“I’m excited to see how many people enjoy poetry because it’s not my strongest point,” Kanoa said, “but I think that it’s interesting to meet a bunch of different people who are interested in it.”

If she makes it to the national level and wins, she will receive $20,000. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals gives $50,000 in student awards and school stipends in total. It will be held from May 2-4 at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, Washington, DC.

Kanoa said that “all the cards are on the table” and although she hopes to make it to the national finals, she isn’t sure about how things will play out.

“I just think it would be a cool feeling,” she said. “I didn’t even expect to win the class competition so it’s all kind of new, and it’s a surprise to me.”

It’s all new to Kamehameha Maui, too, as this is the first year in which they have entered the competition.