April 27, 2010

Poetry Out Loud - Nationals 2010 (Day 1 & 2)

 -Lynne Johnson, Associate Director of Education sent in these posts from the Poetry Out Loud national competition in Washington DC, where Wilmene Hercule, Prospect Hill Academy student, and Massachusetts state winner, is competing.


Poetry Out Loud got off to a great start today at the Meet and Greet. I was so proud of Wilmene, because she got right in there and introduced herself to as many other contestants as she could. She did a great job making new friends, and it is apparent she is very comfortable in that vein.  Along for the ride, she brought her mother Marie, her aunt Edna and her 7th grade cousin Regina. We had a great time getting acquainted with each other and it was clear they were all extremely proud of Wilmene.  We all agreed that we each, individually, have good vibes about Wilmene's performance tomorrow. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

About an hour after the meet and greet we attended the opening banquet in one of the function rooms at the Renaissance Hotel, which is POL headquarters for this event. We sat at a table with a student from South Carolina and her entourage. The dinner was nice, we had a few laughs, and then on to rest for an early morning. Wilmene says she is more nervous than she was last year, but I spoke to her on the phone later in the evening and assured her she is certainly capable and talented enough to do very well tomorrow. I gave her some reassuring words and hopefully it might help her relax a little. She is such a wonderful girl. I wish her the best. It's hard to believe she is in the tenth grade. She reads much older and wiser. Let's give her our positive energy from Massachusetts! 

L to R  Marie Hercule (Wilmene's mom) Wilmene, Regina (cousin) Edna (aunt) Meghan Dunn, Wilmene's English Teacher from Prospect Hill Academy, Me (Lynne Johnson)


We started early this morning. I got up at 6am so I could catch breakfast before the three hour semi-finals. At 6:45 I received a text message telling me that my step daughter, Eryn, had her son Eziquiel Leif Ticona Johnson. I was ecstatic and also sad to not be home for the first moments with our new grandchild.

I texted Wilmene an inspirational message hoping to quell her nerves a bit and give her some good old Huntington Theatre Company support. When I saw her in the lobby she was appreciative. I shared a cab with her aunt and cousin to the Lisner Auditorium. Her mom was allowed to ride on the POL bus to the semi's. We were at the Lisner by 8:30 and anxiously awaited the start of the competition. The semi-finals ran smoothly and it made me proud that we are so organized in Boston, because we were certainly up to par with the Nationals.

Wilmene was part of the North East competitors which involved 18 students. In round one, she took the stage confidently and rocked her first poem, entitled "The Song of the Smoke" by W.E.B. DuBois. I had goosebumps and felt like she had nailed it. It was brilliant. She has a presence like no other 15 year old I've worked with. Her understanding of the literature runs deep, and it is truly evident in her performance.
Round two was equally great. She recited "The Slave Auction" by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Her performance was haunting and she held the audience spellbound with her recitation. After all participants were done we had a 10 minute break. The competition was pretty stiff, but I truly thought she was in for sure. She made it to the top 8 and had to recite her third poem. The third poem was good as well, but for some reason she didn't get to the finals. I really thought she was a shoe-in, but as I've learned from these competitions, you can never second guess what the judges are seeing from their own perspective.

After the competition, I could feel Wilmene's disappointment, but she held her head high. Her teacher from Prospect Hill Academy had this to say about her. "I have an MFA in poetry and Wilmene has made me look at poems from a totally different perspective. She has a deep understanding and she also writes beautifully."

Tomorrow we have the Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill bright and early where state representatives will meet with us and then I have an State Partner meeting in the afternoon. The finals and after party will happen after 7pm. Some celebrities are John Liguizamo as host and Alfre Woodward (actress and BU grad) as judge. I'll try to get a picture with them both.

- Lynne

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