Vanessa Aponte of North Las Vegas never imagined herself competing in a poetry competition, she said — especially not at a national level.
But from April 30 to May 1, the 17-year-old Legacy High School student represented Clark County at the 2019 national Poetry Out Loud competition held in Washington, D.C. The annual competition, hosted since 2005, is aimed at teaching students poetry through memorization and recitation. The competition is funded through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Aponte qualified after winning the state competition, where she was awarded a $600 scholarship.
“I’ve never written a poem in my life,” Aponte said. “I just recited them for the competition. I learned that I prefer to give a voice to other people’s writing rather than write it myself. The poem that I used throughout the majority of the experience was ‘Enigma’ by Anne Stevenson.”
The competition begins in the classroom at schools across each district, according to Las Vegas-based Mary Jane Dorofachuk, Poetry Out Loud specialist and an education specialist for the Nevada Arts Council.
“We try to get students in all districts to participate,” Dorofachuk said. “The schools then have a competition where usually one or two will win, qualifying them for the district competition. The student that wins the district competes in Reno for the state final competition. The student that wins that competition then goes to Washington, D.C., for the national competition. About 3,500 students statewide competed this year.”
Aponte said the competition helped her hone her public speaking skills, something she plans to carry with her to college.
“In the fall, I’ll be attending UNLV, and ultimately, I plan to go to law school and incorporate what I’ve learned at the poetry competition there,” Aponte said. “I also want to inspire other kids to participate in this. There aren’t many people from my school who know about it and I know there’s so many who would be really excited to do something like this.”
Aponte said the competition is a great chance for students at Legacy High to enhance their public speaking capabilities and meet other students their age doing the same. She studied for hours at school with her English teacher, Lera Shawver, and her parents at home.
“I think other people should definitely take advantage of this opportunity,” Aponte said. “It’s really important for Legacy as a school to kind of take advantage of this opportunity and seize this moment.”