Arizona High School Poets To Compete In State Finals

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Friday, March 6, 2020 - 3:06pm
Updated: Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 12:01pm

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Sareya Taylor
Sareya Taylor (White Mountain Apache/Navajo) is a high school senior attending Perry High School. She is the first Phoenix Youth Poet Laureate and who focuses on the Indigenous peoples of America and the trauma they may have experienced in their lives. .

For the last 15 years, high school students in Arizona have participated in Poetry Out Loud — a national spoken word competition that builds awareness of the literary form while helping youth improve their public speaking skills.  

And over the course of the last several months, high schoolers have been polishing their poetic chops, hoping to stand out as best in show.

Ten regional winners from the state will compete with the winner advancing to the national finals next month in Washington, D.C.

Akhila Bandlora is a Valley high school student. She and fellow student Heather Laurel Jensen are co-founders of Creative Youth of Arizona, a youth-led nonprofit group that is partnering with the Arizona Commission on the Arts to bring the state finals to Burton Barr Central Library Saturday at 2 p.m.

Bandlora said poetry is a rewarding and important vehicle for self-expression. “Poetry is one of the most accessible vehicles for storytelling. It can transcend a lot of cultural barriers and it’s a really equitable way for people to be able to share what’s important to them,” Bandlora said. 

Steve Wilcox, communications director for Arizona Commission on the Arts, said the agency is overseeing the state competition with other partners and the judging criteria for the poems is stipulated by national organizations.   

“The reciter isn’t there as a performer or as an actor portraying the speaker of the poem. They are reciting the poem in a way that is appropriate to the emotional and intellectual content, but not necessarily acting,” said Wilcox.   

The competition is spearheaded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

The national finals will be held in Washington, D.C., on April 27-29. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to update the number of finalists