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So what’s the deal with poetry? Some people might hear the word “poetry” and picture someone with a French cap, a sweater/scarf combination, maybe glasses, and of course, a pen and journal. Others might hear the word “poetry” and picture nothing, but rather think something like, “Poetry is for geeks,” “Poetry’s too complicated to understand so I’d rather not read it,” or even “I don’t have time for poetry, it seems pretty boring and useless.” Okay, maybe poetry is a little complex in that you have to read and analyze it to find the deeper meaning, as sometimes, that’s the only way you can really appreciate it, but it’s an amazing way for someone to express themselves. I mean, when Shakespeare first wrote his sonnets about how his lover’s eyes didn’t resemble the sun, do you think anyone at the time really cared? Maybe, maybe not. But now we read and study it so often that it shows just how powerful poetry can really be. For me, it was absolutely life-changing.

For a long time, I had been a very shy and quiet person; whenever I had to do some form of public speaking in school, I would get anxious and tremble, turn red, or do both. I preferred to do writing my assignments over presentations because that was the one way I could really express myself and let my voice be heard. I was a writer at heart. I spent so much time fearing the judgment of others that I missed out on opportunities like school plays and performances. Then my Junior year of high school came, and I heard about a competition called Poetry Out Loud. I had terrible stage fright, but I figured it was time to face my fears.

Woman Covering Her Face With Her Hands
Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

So you may be asking, what is Poetry Out Loud? Well, it’s basically a national high school-level competition where students compete by reciting (you guessed it!) “poetry out loud.” It starts at the school level, then goes to the county level, continues to the state level, and finally finishes at the national level. I had honestly never heard of it before, but my AP English Language and Composition teacher advertised it to us, and I was pretty interested. All I would have to do is choose 2-3 poems from the Poetry Out Loud website, memorize them, and recite them to an audience. It didn’t seem that hard. Granted, I absolutely dreaded facing a crowd of any size, but I was determined to see it through.

Little did I know, I’d actually been given a mentor to help me prepare for the competition. It was pretty cool, I have to say, to have my own coach and, honestly, without him I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I remember meeting him for the first time and being so nervous (of course) that when I had to practice reciting one of the poems I chose, I was as quiet as a mouse, eyes glued to the floor. “We’re gonna work on that,” he said to me, not to be harsh, but to be encouraging. 

empty classroom
Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli from Unsplash

We met twice a week leading up to the school competition, and each time, my mentor would softly encourage me to be a little louder, look a little higher, speak a little bolder. Slowly but surely, I got better at making eye contact and raising my voice. We only had about a month of meeting like this before the school competition finally came, and when it did, my anxiety suddenly came back. It felt like I was backtracking, and I couldn’t sit still as I waited to be called up. I remember my mentor coming next to me and advising, “Don’t think about the judges. Instead, think about the people who are here to listen to and appreciate your voice.” 

In my mind, I could just picture the judges critiquing my every movement and word, taking off points, and declaring the win to someone more deserving. It didn’t help that the girl I was competing against was involved in Drama Club. After all, I was only just beginning to get comfortable with being in the spotlight; how could I compare to someone who had been doing it for years? I had to remind myself that my mentor was helping me, not only because it was his job, but because he actually believed in me. When it was finally my turn, I took a deep breath, and, with his words in mind, I began to recite. With each word, I grew more and more confident. It was such an indescribable feeling; it felt like I was freeing myself from the chains of fear and self-doubt. I ended up doing so well that I not only won at the school level but at the county level too! Although I didn’t win at the state level, my poetic career didn’t stop there. Soon after, I was invited to represent my school in a district-wide poetry slam, and I ended up as a finalist for the win. I also participated in several other poetry slams and contests, and I was even nominated for the position of Ventura County’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate. I suddenly felt like a rising star in the local poetry community!

vintage microphone with lights in background
Photo by Israel Palacio from Unsplash

After that, I participated in and won my school Poetry Out Loud competition during my senior year. Since then, I’ve also written a ton of poetry, and some pieces have actually been published already! Being involved with poetry throughout the community has been an amazing journey that has helped me grow as both a poet and a person. 

So what’s the moral of my story? Don’t be afraid to face your fears. Don’t be afraid to do something you love (or could love!) because you’re afraid of what others might think. Don’t be afraid to go out there and live your life. If I hadn’t taken a stand and decided it was time for me to overcome my stage fright, I wouldn’t have discovered this newfound appreciation for poetry, I wouldn’t have established such a personal relationship with it, and I certainly wouldn’t have found the path of life I’m currently on. The truth is, the only one who can really stop you is you. So go ahead: go do what you love. Follow your dreams. Reach for the sky. After all, if airplanes can fly, then so can we.

Angelina Leanos

Cal Lutheran '23

Hi! I'm Angelina and I'm the Co-Senior Editor/Writing Director of HCCLU. I'm a Junior majoring in English and minoring in Psychology. I love traveling, cooking/baking, listening to music, and writing poetry. Instagram: @angi.lean
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