Two-Time Poetry Out Loud Winner: Emma Hwang

Esha Joshi, Features Writer

Students might think of poetry as something dull, inaccessible, and outdated. To most, its only purpose might be for tedious analysis during English classes or lifeless recitations in elementary school. 

Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation competition, subverts those assumptions. With an expansive catalog of contemporary and older poetry at their fingertips, students have the opportunity to find pieces that resonate with them and bring them to life for an audience.

This year, junior Emma Hwang won Pinewood’s competition for the second year in a row with the poems “Backdrop Addresses Cowboy” by Margaret Atwood and “I Wonder Where You Are” by Tanaya Winder. She and ninth graders Caitlin Yamaguchi and Lara Parakh, who won second and third place, will move on to the county level.

Last year, Hwang was a finalist at the school level and won the contest at the county level. That year, Poetry Out Loud was virtual; students submitted videos of themselves reciting their chosen poems to be judged. 

English and History teacher Holly Coty, who runs both the Pinewood and the Santa Clara County chapters of Poetry Out Loud, said she is proud of Emma for winning the Pinewood competition two years in a row.

“Emma brings poise and confidence to her interpretation of the poems, delivering them with careful attention to tone and pacing, allowing the poem to resonate with the audience,” Coty said.

For the 2022 competition, Hwang chose three poems from the Poetry Out Loud collection. She performed “Stomp” by Nikki Grimes and “Interlude” by Amy Lowell, poems she chose because of their emotional weight and ambiguous endings. For the state competition, she added “On the Death of Anne Brontë” to her repertoire, another piece with a distinctive presence and open-ended conclusion.

Hwang starts the process of memorizing the poems with a commonly overlooked step: analyzing the meaning of the poem itself. 

“Truly understanding a poem allows the speaker to recite as if they were ‘living’ as the poem or poet, allowing for a more emotionally connecting experience,” she said. 

As she practiced her poems, Hwang paid close attention to various aspects of her performance, such as her inflection, rhythm, and gestures. Filming her practices allowed her to identify areas to work on and strengthen the emotion and connection of her performance. 

Hwang also made use of the resources she had at Pinewood. Coty gave Hwang useful feedback on her recitations as well as the pronunciation of specific words.

Despite her clear enthusiasm about poetry, Hwang had low expectations for winning in 2022, citing her lack of experience as the reason.  

“My jaw literally dropped,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I feel like a real poet, now. I can really move people with just my words.’”