Maiss Hussein took home this year’s Delaware Poetry Out Loud crown Thursday night with her recitation of Tarfia Faizullah’s “The Poem You’ve Been Waiting For.”
“The most exciting part of this night was seeing how everyone expresses their emotions so differently,” she said. “You can look at the same poem and somebody’s looking at it so differently.”
It’s important to keep an open mind, since people can interpret literature and perform poetry in unique ways based on their experiences, she said.
Hussein beat 11 other finalists from Delaware high schools at the state finals Thursday night at the Smyrna Opera House.
She’ll head to Washington, D.C., May 8-10 for the National Poetry Out Loud Finals with $50,000 in awards on the line.
The junior from Paul M. Hodgson Vocational Technical High School also took home $200 and earned her school $500 to spend on poetry materials.
The 12 state finalists performed memorized poems in two rounds. Five finalists were chosen for the final round, where they performed a third poem.
Contestants were judged on their physical presence, eye contact and body language, pace, rhythm, punctuation, dramatic appropriateness, articulation and evidence of understanding.
The contestants had advanced through school competitions, choosing works from an anthology of more than 1,200 poems.
Competitions started in October, with about 200 students across the state participating.
On Thursday, contestants’ family members filled the Smyrna Opera House. Delaware’s DJ Tim Dogg spun tracks in between readings to celebrate the history of hip-hop.
Parents kept the groove going during intermission as they danced with their children to classics such as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.”
“To be able to share poems means to be able to share feelings and connections with others,” Hussein said. “If you’re able to express a poem, you’re able to express an emotion and possible connection with someone hearing it.”
Hussein hopes the Opera House audience took away a sense of relatability and connection.
“If they can see themselves living in that poem or are able to feel the poem themselves, the message behind it is even stronger than what it was originally written out to be,” she said.
Hussein chose Nour Al Ghraowi’s “Truth is I would like to escape myself” in the first round and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s “No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved” in the second.
Hussein wants to pursue a career in dental hygiene. She’s previously competed in the Health Occupations Students of America competition and is a board member and leader of multiple diversity and equity groups at her school.
Sanford School’s Kaylee Rathbone finished second. She pocketed $100 and earned her school $200.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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