Skutt Catholic student finalist in national poetry competition

Posted at 7:28 AM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 16:22:55-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A Skutt Catholic High School junior made it to the final round of the Poetry Out Loud competition. Alex Zaleski is one of nine finalists from around the country competing Thursday night for a $20,000 scholarship.

Reciting poetry is a fine line between theater and giving a speech.

“It allows a student who often may be on the shyer side who already might love words or who may just be learning to love words allows them an interesting opportunity to find a poem from the Poetry Out Loud catalog that really speaks to them and they’re in a safe space, in their classrooms as they begin to compete,” said Sherri Hoye, an English teacher and Poetry Out Loud coach at Skutt Catholic High School.

The competition is a bit different this year; due to COVID everything is virtual and students recorded themselves reciting poetry.

"It’s really different than what I’m used to,” Alex Zaleski said. “Trying to get used to that quiet instead of having people there because when you have people there you can kind of gauge how you’re doing because you can feel the energy off the audience"

Choosing three poems for the competition involved a little strategy. This year, Zaleski went for a variety of styles and followed her instinct.

“Those gut emotional reactions is kind of like your body telling you, that poem is yours,” she said.

Judges will score the recitations based on physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding, overall performance, and accuracy.

To practice for the competition Zaleski writes out poems.

“I have notebook pages that are just scribbles and it looks like gibberish, but I’m writing poetry lines over and over again,” Zaleski said.

Hoye said she earned this.

“She is such a hard worker, such a lovely person," Hoye said. "I could get very emotional talking about her. I am just so proud of her. She cares about what she does and she cares how it’s received.”


Skutt Catholic student finalist in national poetry competition

Some of Zaleski’s friends and family are cheering her on at a watch party at Skutt Catholic High School. Click here to see the livestream of the Poetry Out Loud competition at 6:00 Thursday, May 27.

Actor and writer Shaun Taylor-Corbett will host an evening of recitations by the top nine finalists, with live interviews with the students and the announcement of the 2021 Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

The 2021 Poetry Out Loud National Finalists are:

  • Alabama Champion Soojin Park (Auburn High School)
  • Colorado Champion Aidyn Reid (Fountain Valley School)
  • Nebraska Champion Alexandra Rose Zaleski (VJ and Angela Skutt Catholic High School)
  • South Dakota Champion Rahele Megosha (Washington High School)
  • Tennessee Champion Kendall Grimes (Battle Ground Academy)
  • Texas Champion Samuel Eluemunoh (Saint Mark's School of Texas)
  • U.S. Virgin Islands Champion Kaden A. Hughes (Antilles School)
  • Vermont Champion Irén Hangen Vázquez (Burr and Burton Academy)
  • West Virginia Champion Ben Long (Notre Dame High School)

The 2021 Poetry Out Loud national finals will take place virtually with each finalist submitting in advance video recordings of their recitations — selected from an anthology of more than 1,100 classic and contemporary poems — which will be part of the May 27 webcast.

The 2021 national finals judges are: poet and executive director of Kundiman, Cathy Linh Che; poet and NEA Creative Writing Fellow Eduardo C. Corral; poet, educator, and organizer, Gabriel Cortez; scriptwriter, breakbeat poet, educator, and director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, Idris Goodwin; director and host of Poetry in America, director of Verse Video Education, and Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University Elisa New; and actor and 2007 Poetry Out Loud national runner-up Branden Wellington.

A total of $50,000 in awards and school or organizational stipends will be given at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, including a $20,000 award for the National Champion, $10,000 for 2nd place, $5,000 for 3rd place, and $1,000 for 4th–9th places.

The representing schools/organizations of each of the top nine finalists receive $500 for the purchase of poetry materials.

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