Senior Alaya Mays is one of the few of Camas High School’s Poetry Out Loud (POL) competitors to win regionals and enter into the state competition. Her poetry experience is not limited to this contest but entwined with her love of writing and performing at an open mic.
When an English teacher decides to weave the POL competition into their curriculum, their students are required to participate. The winners from the classroom move on to a school-wide local competition. During her three years of competition, only Mays’ sophomore English teacher Mr. Samuel Greene did the POL curriculum in class. For the rest of her POL experience, she sought out English teacher Mrs. Terry Nyquist’s “classroom competition,” for those whose classes are not involved.
During sophomore year, Mays began competing and winning the local contest. Every year she advanced to regionals, and this year is the first time she has advanced to the state competition. The difference in her performance may have been due to her open mic experience for almost a full year before this year’s regional competition. One day her dad surprised her and took her to Ghost Town Poetry, a place for poets and lovers of poetry to listen and present. Due to an English assignment, she happened to have a poem prepared and presented it her first time there. Mays says, “Being able to perform my own poetry helps me to: one, get over my stage fright, and two: get a lot better understanding of other people’s poems.” That latter skill is an integral part of the grading scale for the POL competition.
Advancing past regionals is an unknown territory for Mays. She says, “A lot of the conversation is focused on the school’s competition. You get to know about each other’s schools, and sometimes their friends.” Mays has had three years of experience at regionals; therefore, the atmosphere is familiar to her. She knows “everything feels pumped up,” but she also expects it “to be better than the school-wide competition” because they are all winners there.
State is on March tenth, and she must travel to Tacoma a night before, stay in a prepaid hotel room and find some time to breathe. Mays has never performed poetry outside of Clark County before, but the change of location should not be a hindrance. Competitors are able to attend a workshop before the contest; it is an opportunity to warm up and perform on stage. Every competitor performs two poems, but only the top eight will have the opportunity to present a third. Two competitors will win state and proceed to nationals.
“There is no mic at the state competition, you just have to project,” Alaya Mays considers, it is a time when “it is just you on stage.” Poetry Out Loud provides the opportunity of recognition through an art form that does not receive a lot of attention.
When it comes to how Mays believes poetry will be a part of her life after high school, she says, “Poetry may not become a career, but it will still be prevalent in my life.”