Poetry comes alive

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BHS senior wins annual contest

By Jesef Williams

He’s faced with no running water, fortress-like walls and dark windows that block the sunshine.
He’s a prisoner who feels all of life’s joys and opportunities have been stripped away, yet he manages to stay positive. Through adversity, he finds himself and even discovers subtle joys amidst the pain.
This is the scenario in “Who Understands Me But Me,” a Jimmy Santiago Baca poem recited by a Lancaster County high school student at Bundy Auditorium at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.
Buford High School senior Christopher Thomas recited that piece and a poem by Allen Ginsberg on the way to winning the 2010 Lancaster County School District Poetry Out Loud contest Dec. 16.
The competition featured students from three of the district’s four high schools – each orally performing poems written by acclaimed authors.
The 10 contestants each recited a poem for each of the two rounds.
Thomas won first place, following by Andrea Azumendi of Andrew Jackson High School. Robert Massey, also from AJHS, finished third. Indian Land High School’s Michael Bryant won honorable mention.
Thomas, who had competed in the district Poetry Out Loud contest the last few years, said he was shocked to win, though he knew he was more prepared this year.
“I really wasn’t dedicated the last few years and the poems I picked (this year) were difficult to do,” Thomas said. “I had to work to portray what they (the authors) were saying in the poems.”
In the first round, Thomas performed Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” a popular poem in which the subject idolizes 19th century author Walt Whitman. The fan imagines that he’s walking around a grocery store with Whitman, asking the famed author questions along the way.
“We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier,” the poem reads. “Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour.”
“I love the way it was written and illustrated,” Thomas said. “You can see these things happen in the poem.”
Thomas performed “Who Understands Me But Me” in the final round.
“This guy was in prison going crazy,” Thomas said. “I thought it was pretty cool.”
An invaluable experience
This year’s Poetry Out Loud competition had fewer students than in some other years. However, the quality of performances was superb, said David Platts, the district’s arts specialist.
“We’re proud of everyone who participated,” Platts said. “The competition puts poetry in the forefront of students’ minds and they get to learn about major works. That’s invaluable.”
Thomas, Azumendi and Bryant (the winners from each school) will now move on the Poetry Out Loud regionals, which will be Jan. 22 in Spartanburg.
State finals are in March.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1152