Elissa Koyuk, winner of Juneau’s 2017 Poetry Out Loud competition.

Elissa Koyuk, winner of Juneau’s 2017 Poetry Out Loud competition.

First time Poetry Out Loud participant advances to state final

Winner of Juneau’s 2017 Poetry Out Loud competition Elissa Koyuk, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, will represent the capital city in the Alaska State Finals on March 7 at @360 North.

During Poetry Out Loud, high school students memorize, perform and compete poems by published poets, some well-known, some lesser-known.

“I’d never gone on stage before, so I thought my legs were going to collapse, but I got through it and it was really fun,” Koyuk said about the school competition.

She competed at the JDHS auditorium for the school competition, then the city competition, which happened in the more casual atmosphere of the JDHS library.

“For the city competition, it was a lot more natural to recite [the poems] without thinking about everyone watching me,” she said.

The 2017 Alaska competition had more than 3,700 participants, according to a Poetry Out Loud count. The winners of the Alaska State Final will go on to the national competition in Washington, D.C. in April.

This is Koyuk’s first Poetry Out Loud competition because this year was the first time she heard about it; she only recently moved to Juneau, where the local arts community and teachers within the Juneau School District have promoted Poetry Out Loud for many years. She hadn’t done any kind of poetry recitation before, but when her English teacher Jennie Rehder told her class about the competition, Koyuk thought she’d give it a go.

Koyuk recited “Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn and “To Myself” by Franz Wright.

“I thought I connected really well to them and I could convey the meaning of them,” Koyuk said. She had to choose from the hundreds of poems on the Poetry Out Loud website.

After she chose the poems she memorized them, then let herself find their rhythm.

“There are natural increases in speed and voice volume depending on the area of the poem,” she said. “‘Sweetness’ has kind of an emotional piece towards the end … it naturally gets louder. The poems do the work for me, but I’m relaying the meaning.”

Koyuk said both poems have similar themes.

“So ‘Sweetness’ is about having this sweetness that’s in your life that comes at really odd times,” she said. “It’s what we live by. We live to have this joy and this happiness but it’s not always there. It can be really hard to find sometimes, but when we do find it, it’s really nice. ‘To Myself’ is kind of a self-love sort of poem. It’s about being your own advocate and being able to get through anything.”

For the upcoming state finals, Koyuk will face off with nine other high schoolers: Jania Tumey (West Anchorage High School), Isabella Weiss (Colony High School), Sarah Price (North Pole High School), Juan Sarmiento (Homer High School), Ashelyn Rude (Glenallen School), Amanda Davison (Anguiin School), Elisa Larson (Petersburg School), Moriyah Lorentzen (Tanalian School) and Madeline Andriesen (Haines School).

For the final, Koyuk will recite her previous poems and a new one, which she’ll choose from the Poetry Out Loud website. In the meantime, she’s practicing “Sweetness” and “To Myself.”

“I think it’s important to pick a poem that you can relate with,” she said.

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