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Cambridge Student Wilmene Hercule Wins MA Poetry Out Loud Competition for the Second Year


Wilmene Hercule

Wilmene Hercule (Prospect Hill Academy, Cambridge), 2010 Massachusetts Poetry Out Loud State Champion

Wilmene Hercule, a fifteen year old sophomore from Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Cambridge, was named the Massachusetts 2010 Poetry Out Loud State Champion at Boston’s Old South Meeting House on Sunday, March 14. She will travel to Washington, D.C. next month to compete in the national competition. Hercule also won the 2009 state competition as a freshman. Hercule performed W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Song of the Smoke” in the first round, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s “The Slave Auction” in the second, and June Jordan’s “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.” in the third.

First runner-up is Mariah Watkins from the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers. Second runner up Chelsea Villareal from Westfield High School.

“Wilmene performed powerfully and beautifully throughout the competition,” remarked Lynne Johnson, Huntington Theatre Company associate director of education. “Her performance of “The Slave Auction” sent chills throughout the audience. The crown was clearly hers when she rose to the top six and delivered her final poem. Wilmene has a way of stepping out of her fifteen-year-old innocence into the world of each of her poems, embodying them completely and effortlessly. She is truly amazing and certainly someone to keep an eye on in the future.” Johnson will accompany Hercule to Washington next month for the national competition.

Wilmene Hercule with her mother Marie Hercule.

2010 Massachusetts Poetry Out Loud State Champion Wilmene Hercule with her mother Marie Hercule

Poetry Out Loud, annually facilitated by the Huntington Theatre Company, seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form as seen in the slam poetry movement and the popularity of rap music among youth. Through Poetry Out Loud, students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Now in its fifth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud has inspired thousands of high school students to discover classic and contemporary poetry. To learn more about the national contest, visit huntingtontheatre.org/POL.

Finals judges included WCVB-TV’s director of public affairs and community services and host and executive producer of CityLine Karen Holmes Ward, senior manager of client services for the Boston Red Sox and Huntington Trustee Carole Alkins, director of the public speaking program of Wellesley College’s Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center Barbara Boger, and associate dean of students at Brandeis University Jamele Adams. Adams, who also performed, has been the Boston Grand Slam Poetry Champ for the past three years. The event also included a performance by award-winning local poet Frannie Lindsay (frannielindsay.net/bio.html).

Competitors from the State Finals will perform at a special celebration of Arts Education Month – March 2010 at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday, March 30 at 4pm. The event is co-sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), Representative Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), and Co-Chairs of the Massachusetts Cultural Caucus.

This year, a record 14,000 students from 60 high schools participated at the school level. The Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Huntington Theatre Company sponsor the MA contest; the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation sponsor the competition on the national level.

This year’s Massachusetts Poetry Out Loud competition includes schools from the following communities: Abington, Avon, Boston, Brighton, Brookline, Burlington, Cambridge, Canton, Devens, Dorchester, Dover, East Sandwich, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Framingham, Great Barrington, Harwich, Hingham, Hyannis, Jamaica Plain, Lawrence, Lowell, Malden, Marblehead, Mattapoisett, Melrose, Methuen, Newburyport, Newton, Northborough, Pittsfield, Provincetown, Randolph, Rockland, Roxbury, Salem, Sheffield, South Hadley, South Yarmouth, Springfield, Swampscott, Topsfield, Tyngsboro, Waltham, Westfield, West Newton, West Roxbury, West Springfield, Wilbraham, and Worcester.

The NEA awards all state champions $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to compete in the national championship. A total of $50,000 in scholarships and school stipends at the National Finals will be awarded to the winners. The Huntington provided all school winners with a certificate of participation, t-shirt, poetry books, and a subscription to Ploughshares.

After winning the 2009 Poetry Out Loud competition, Hercule explained, “Poetry Out Loud allowed me to step outside myself and made me more thoughtful about those around me and what they feel. For example, “A Song in the Front Yard” made me wonder whether or not the quieter people I know are looking for the same kind of freedom poet Gwendolyn Brookes’ speaker was looking for. Poetry Out Loud has given me a deeper understanding of poets and their personalities. You never truly understand a poem or where the poet is coming from until you’ve analyzed it, defined it, and recited it for others as if you were the poet him or herself.”

About Poetry Out Loud
Recitation and performance are major new trends in poetry. There has been a recent resurgence of poetry as an oral art form, as seen in the slam poetry movement and the immense popularity of hip-hop music. Poetry Out Loud builds on that momentum by inviting the dynamic aspects of slam poetry, spoken word, and theatre into the English class.

The NEA and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with state arts agencies to support the expansion of Poetry Out Loud, which encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. This exciting program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

Compiled from the press release courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company (website | profile | tag archive).

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