Poetry Out Loud '08: Kareem Sayegh places in top five at state finals
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 - 2:46am
Junior Kareem Sayegh at the March 1 regional Poetry Out Loud contest, which he won. He finished in the top five at the March 6 state finals, reciting works by Carl Sandburg, Aphra Behn, and Wilfred Owen. Gargoyle photo (click to enlarge)
SPRINGFIELD — Junior Kareem Sayegh chose an eclectic trio of poems to memorize and recite for the Poetry Out Loud state finals last week: a muscular tribute to a city on the rise, a flirtatious meditation on the cruelty of love, an unflinching look at the reality of war.
The result? A top-five finish for Sayegh in Uni's first year of participating in Poetry Out Loud.
Fourteen students from seven regions competed in the recitation contest, held Thursday at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield.
Mark Schmidt of Wheaton Warrenville South won and will advance to nationals on April 29. Heidy Alvarado of Chicago Howard Taft placed second. The other students in the top five, including Sayegh, were not given a final placing.
All 14 students recited two poems each, then the top five recited a third poem in the final round.
“I felt like I did my poems the best I could,” Sayegh said. “I put a lot of emotion into them, a lot of myself into the poetry. … Grading a poetry recitation is an extremely subjective thing. I’m just proud of what I did.”
The contestants were judged on seven basic criteria: physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding, overall performance, and accuracy.
Sayegh advanced to the state finals by winning the March 1 regional contest at the Champaign Public Library. His first two poems at the state contest were the same ones he recited at regionals: Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and Aphra Behn’s “Love Armed.”
This is the first year Uni students had the opportunity to compete in Poetry Out Loud. The program has existed nationally for three years, but no regional contests had been held in East Central Illinois until this year. Sayegh and fellow junior Cheng Luo won a schoolwide contest in late February to advance to regionals.
Click to listen (1:35)
English department executive teacher Elizabeth Majerus, who teaches the school's poetry elective, talks about the value of a recitation contest such as Poetry Out Loud.
The introduction of Poetry Out Loud to the C-U area is welcome news to English department head Elizabeth Majerus, who teaches Uni's poetry elective.
“I’m very excited about this contest because I think it helps bring poetry into the public consciousness to a greater extent, and especially the public communal recitation of poetry, which I think is so important,” she said.
“When I teach the poetry class, often students will say they didn’t understand a poem but then when they heard someone in class read it out loud they understand it better. And I think that’s because poetry is a spoken art form.”
At the state contest, first-place winner Schmidt earned a $200 prize, and Wheaton Warrenville South received $500 for the purchase of poetry books for the school library.
Alvarado, the runner-up, won a $100 prize, and her high school received $200 for the purchase of poetry books for the school library.
The other students in the top five were Laila Abdo of Harrisburg High School and Tia Jenkins of Edwardsville High School.
The nine other participants in the state contest were Paul Anderson and Paul Gustafson of Moline High School; Jeremy Busby of Beck Area Career Center in Red Bud; Kelsey Cunningham and CeCe Frey of Mt. Zion High School; Alexis Lambert-Johnson of Auburn High School in Rockford; Suhaila Meera of Carbondale Community High School; Emily Newbold of McHenry West Campus; and Samantha Porter of Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School.
Poetry Out Loud in Illinois is a collaborative project of the Illinois Arts Council and seven arts councils throughout the state that host regional contests. 40 North | 88 West — the Champaign County Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Council — hosted the March 1 competition at the Champaign Library.
The Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance, and competition. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation support this program nationwide.
“We read poetry on the page, we appreciate it, but you can’t really know a poem until you’ve heard it read out loud or have read it yourself out loud,” Majerus said.
“So this contest really encourages high school students to become intimate with poetry, gets them in touch with great poems, and also, most importantly, gets them in touch with reciting great poems aloud. … I’m hoping that things like Poetry Out Loud will help us all to appreciate how poetry can enrich our lives both in school but also outside of school in general.”
As for Sayegh, he’s already looking forward to 2009.
“I’m going to do it next year,” he said. “I’m going to try to convince others to do it next year as well. It was a good competition. As a poetry project, it really does help you read more poetry. You have to choose the poems you want to do, and there are some really good poems in the anthologies that they have. It was fun.”
TEXTS OF THE POEMS KAREEM SAYEGH RECITED
- CARL SANDBURG’S “CHICAGO”
- HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women
under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman
kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I
have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give
them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse
and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set
vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to
be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
- APHRA BEHN’S “LOVE ARMED”
- Love in fantastic triumph sat,
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flowed,
For whom fresh pains he did create,
And strange tyrannic power he showed,
From thy bright eyes he took his fire,
Which round about, in sport he hurled;
But 'twas from mine, he took desire,
Enough to undo the amorous world.
From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee;
Thus thou and I, the god have armed,
And set him up a deity;
But my poor heart alone is harmed,
Whilst thine the victor is, and free.
- WILFRED OWEN’S “DULCE ET DECORUM EST”
- Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime. —
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
Written 1917; published posthumously 1920