Honor Mealey of North Pole HIgh School, recites one of her three poems at the annual Poetry Out Loud State Championships held at KTOO’s @360 Studio on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Mealey placed first in the event. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Honor Mealey of North Pole HIgh School, recites one of her three poems at the annual Poetry Out Loud State Championships held at KTOO’s @360 Studio on Thursday, March 7, 2019. Mealey placed first in the event. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

North Pole High School student wins state poetry contest

Juneauite finished in Poetry Out Loud’s final four

Honor Mealey took home top Poetry Out Loud honors.

The North Pole High School junior finished first out of a field of 10 in Thursday night’s statewide poetry recitation contest, and she will represent Alaska in the national contest to be held in Washington, D.C.

“I was not expecting it,” Mealey said, whose face wore a visibly stunned expression after the announcement she had won. “I am honestly just so honored to have the privilege to represent my school and go to Washington, D.C.”

National finals will be held Tuesday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 1.

Mealey read a trio of poems —“The Obligation to Be Happy” by Linda Pastan, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold and “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds.

Every contestant was given a chance to read three poems on stage at KTOO’s @360 North studio, but only the event’s finalists were judged on their third poems. The exhibition readings were delivered while judges Kathleen Witkowska Tarr Mickey Kenny, Ernestine Saankalaxt’ Hayes, Amy O’Neill Houck and Bridget Lujan tabulated final scores.

[PHOTOS: Poetry Out Loud Slideshow]

“Dover Beach” is an imagery-intensive poem that includes a number of multi-syllabic words that would seem especially challenging in a recitation competition, but Mealey said words such as “tremulous” and proper nouns including “Sophocles” and “Ægean” are exactly why she picked the poem.

“I chose ‘Dover Beach’ because it’s a poem with absolutely beautiful imagery,” Mealey said. “I just enjoy reading it. Those words are a challenge, but I trip over words like ‘about’ way more than those.”

This was Mealey’s second time competing at the Poetry Out Loud state contest, and Mealey said the programs has been great for her and allows her to be performative and build confidence.

“Poetry Out Loud has been a wonderful way to perform in a way that I love,” Mealey said.

Natalie Fraser of West Anchorage High School, was the competition’s runner-up. Thunder Mountain High School senior Morgan Blackgoat and Homer High School’s Iris Downey were also finalists.

This was Blackgoat’s second time advancing to the statewide contest, and she read the poems “Diameter” by Michelle Y. Burke, “After the Disaster” by Abigail Deutsch and “Envy” by Mary Lamb.

During her final poem, Blackgoat’s memorization faltered and she needed assistance from the contest’s prompter.

“I guess I shouldn’t try to memorize a poem in one day,” Blackgoat said. “I’ve been so busy.”

[Blackgoat gets another shot at state poetry competition]

She said she was pleased to make it as far as she did and praised the nine other girls and young women who read poems.

“They were so amazing it made my heart stop, but in a good way,” Blackgoat said.

Hayes, who is Alaska State Writer Laureate as well as one of the competition’s judges, also praised the “vigor and drama” the students brought to the words they read during remarks toward the end of the contest.

During her short speech, Hayes drew a parallel between the global threats of violence and environmental calamity that the great artists of the past faced and the tumultuous world today’s high-schoolers face.

“Equal rights, wars, scandal, pollution, climate change, the challenges you face now at a high school age are global, and they threaten the world’s citizens,” Hayes said.

However, she predicted great things for the young people in the room despite that list of impending obstacles.

“Just as those whose words you honored today went on to become artists, writers, teachers, leaders, community organizers, painters, medical professionals, journalists, performers, poets you will do the same,” Hayes said. “You will meet all challenges. You will overcome all threats. You will persevere with the same determination, dedication and genius that you have brought with you to this room. You will not only go forward to realize your own calling, but you will take the world with you to a new tomorrow, to a healed Earth to a brilliant future.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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