Approximately 20 Nogales High School students stepped onto the auditorium stage one afternoon last week, each one reciting a self-selected poem before four judges sitting in the audience.
It was part of the Poetry Out Loud competition, a nationwide program that aims to help students improve their public speaking skills while learning about the literary world.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the participating NHS students chose to read works by famous poets such as Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats, with themes ranging from love to war.
“The bullets chirped in vain, vain, vain,” recited senior student Leonardo Tavera Montiel, pretending to shoot an imaginary gun as he recited the line from Wilfred Owen’s, “The Last Laugh.”
Tavera’s dramatization, combined with his nearly perfect accuracy in reciting the poem, ultimately earned him first place in the school competition.
He was followed by sophomores Diegoalan Carrillo, Jesus Gomez de Leon and Paul Lucero Arroyo in second, third and fourth place, respectively. Jose Tafolla took home fifth place.
Tavera explained afterward that his choice of poem was based on the various emotions that are expressed within each line. As for gathering the confidence to play each emotion out on stage, he said previous practice in his classes helped prepare him for the competition.
“I was just trying to get a poem that I could be dynamic with,” he said. “I think I’ve just presented quite a bit in school, which is to a classroom and not to an auditorium. But still, it’s the same concept.”
As NHS’s top contestant, Tavera will now head to the Poetry Out Loud Arizona Southern Regionals on Saturday, Feb. 29, in Tucson, where he will compete with other students for the opportunity to go to the state finals.
“I really want to make it as far as I can. I think there’s a prize, but even if there’s not, I think it’s really cool to just try your best,” Tavera told the NI.
In 2015, Zaskia Villa, then a senior at NHS, won the Arizona Poetry Out Loud championship and advanced to the national finals competition in Washington, D.C. She won a $200 cash award and a free trip for her and a chaperone to the nationals. In addition, NHS received $500 to purchase poetry books for its library.