This spring, Michigan Poetry Out Loud students and teachers took part in online workshops with poets and educators and continued to share the power of poetry with us through written and spoken words, despite the cancellation of the in-person State Finals.

To help celebrate the achievements and hard work of this year’s students and teachers, we held a video recitation contest and our inaugural Poetry Out Loud essay contest where students reflected on the following questions: How has participating in the Poetry Out Loud program personally impacted you, your relationship to poetry, and your understanding of the poems you selected? Students included examples of their interpretations and analysis, and crafted powerful essays that spoke to the program’s personal impacts. Monetary prizes have been awarded to the top four students.

We are pleased to share this year’s winning students and excerpts from their essays.


First Place ($1,000): Roxy Sprowl

Marquette Senior High School, Marquette
Teachers: Tanya Sprowl & Eric Hammerstrom

“Junior year sparked my journey towards reclaiming my indigeneity. It was the first year that I had learned of the historical and present-day atrocities inflicted upon my ancestors and indigenous people like me while simultaneously dealing with anti-Native sentiments from my community. When the Poetry Out Loud season rolled around again, I was determined to find a poem that highlighted the inequities and epigenetic trauma indigenous people face. With the momentum and impact I had made from previous years, I knew my peers would pay attention. Thus, I chose to recite Natalie Diaz’s “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Reservation”.

I spent months analyzing the piece, both inside and outside of the classroom. Overall, the piece exemplifies the disturbing impact of the historic suppression of traditional indigenous practices due to the subjugation of indigenous people to Christianity. New imperialism institutionalized the “God, Gold, and Glory” conquering concept which led to the genocide of indigenous people across the globe. The same concept led to Native American boarding schools which stripped indigenous families of participating in any traditional practice and forced them to partake in Christianity. These schools led to the death of thousands of indigenous children, culture, and language. Diaz highlights these issues within her opening line, “Angels don’t come to the reservation.” She exemplifies the connections between historical trauma due to Christianity and issues affecting Indian Country today. “Gabe” serves as a symbol as to the stereotypical perceptions of indigenous men. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker alludes to Christopher Columbus and Diaz makes the connection to the historic white saviors who attempted to “save” indigenous people by forcing them to march hundreds of thousands of miles from their own sacred lands and onto insufficient, horrifying reservations.

Before my performance of this poem, my aunt and I cried together. She gave me traditional medicine to put in my shoe for good luck. Ever since this performance, I have been even more passionate about poetry and recitation. Poetry is what grounds me; it is storytelling. Poetry Out Loud showed me that I have the capability to institute social change through spoken word. It is more than stanzas, meters, and words; it exemplifies emotion and connection. Through it, I discovered my voice. Poetry recitation offers me the outlet to creatively spark social change by speaking up for underrepresented populations who remain voiceless. Ultimately, nothing is greater than the adrenaline I feel while articulating the experiences of myself and others to a crowd. It offers a multitude of opportunities to learn what a textbook can’t teach–the power of human connection. I yearn to continue pursuing this passion throughout my life because it is exhilarating, emotional, and my life would be dull without it.”


Second Place ($500): Xavier Hernandez

Melvindale High School, Melvindale
Teacher: Michelle Meschke

2020 Michigan Poetry Out Loud: Xavier Hernandez #mihumanitiesathome

This week, we're continuing our celebration of the 2020 Poetry Out Loud essay contest winners, and we're excited to introduce you to Xavier Hernandez who just graduated from Melvindale High School. Xavier won second place in the essay contest and his POL lead teacher at MHS is Michelle Meschke.Thank you, Xavier, for sharing your essay excerpt with us, and describing the powerful ways that Poetry Out Loud has impacted you. Congratulations on your POL achievements! #MIhumanitiesathome

Posted by Michigan Poetry Out Loud on Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Third Place ($200): Soja Kureekkattil

Rochester High School, Rochester Hills
Teacher: Ashley Painter

2020 Michigan Poetry Out Loud: Soja Kureekkattil #MIhumanitiesathome

We’re excited to continue our celebration of this year's Poetry Out Loud essay contest winners, and introduce you to Soja Kureekkattil, who just completed the 11th grade at Rochester High School Falcons. Soja won third place in the essay contest and was also a top-scoring participant in the video recitation contest. Her POL lead teacher at Rochester High School is Ashley Painter.Thank you, Soja, for sharing your essay excerpt with us, and illustrating the ways that POL has changed your perception of poetry. Congratulations on your POL achievements! #MIhumanitiesathome

Posted by Michigan Poetry Out Loud on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Fourth Place ($100): Mahbuba Sumiya

Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, Detroit
Teacher: Shannon Waite

“Being able to participate in the Poetry Out Loud helped me to find the second love. Poems feel like magic. I did not grow up performing poems in front of people or watch people perform poems. When I started to read through the collection of poems on the Poetry Out Loud website and in anthropology, it felt refreshing. There are enormous ways anyone can benefit from reading poems or even reciting poems.”



Interested in learning more about the Poetry Out Loud program in Michigan? Visit our Poetry Out Loud webpage, or contact Katie Wittenauer, MH Director of Programs, via email. Registration for the 2020-21 school year will open in August, 2020.

Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of Michigan Humanities (MH), Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Poetry Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Additional support is generously provided by Meijer and the Liesel Litzenburger Meijer Fund.