In April, I attended a poetry reading that celebrated New Jersey’s rich poetry heritage. Ten contemporary NJ poets read not only their own poems but also the poems of iconic NJ poets—e.g. Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Amiri Baraka, and Jack Wiler. I believe that it is our obligation to give voice to the great poets of the past, to keep their words alive. I also believe it is our obligation to support the poets of the future. So, when I discovered that Lawrence High School senior Natasha Vargas, who won the 2014 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud state championships, was a poet, I asked if, besides answering the interview questions, she would be willing to share one of her poems. Lucky for us, she sent “Standing Still.”
On April 28-30, Natasha competed at the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest in Washington, DC. She went on to win third place and made NJ proud.
-Teresa Carson, Associate Editor
How and why did you get involved with Poetry Out Loud?
In English class my freshman year we were required to recite a poem for a grade. I decided to recite “In the Basement of the Goodwill Store” by Ted Kooser. My teacher was very impressed by my recitation because I never really talked in class. I went on to place first runner up in the school competition. I’ve been participating in POL ever since.
What were the highlights of your 2014 POL experience at your school, at the regional competition, and at the state finals?
It was really great winning my school competition because I had placed first runner up every year before this one. I really enjoyed meeting the POL contestants from other schools and listening to their poetry recitations at the regional competition. So far the state competition has been the most enjoyable for me because I was the least nervous. I had already recited my poems multiple times in front of large crowds so I was able to relax and take in the experience. I also really enjoyed the music the musicians provided between each recitation.
How and why did you chose “Ecology,” “Thoughtless Cruelty,” and “A Locked House” as your poems?
I chose “Ecology” because of its complexity. I’ve been participating in POL competitions for four years now and I wanted to tackle something truly challenging. “Ecology” has given me the opportunity to create something of my own design through pointed emphasis and phrasing. I chose “Thoughtless Cruelty” because of its deeper meaning. The poem condemns Robert for killing an innocent fly. To me that innocent fly represents any weak or defenseless member of society. I chose “A Locked House” because of its broad range of emotion and striking narrative. It was interesting how a rather brief poem could convey the complexity of a failed marriage.
What went through your head when you were named state champion?
I was shocked and ecstatic. I was in awe of all the talented contestants that I competed against. Being able to recite poetry with so many talented people was an honor in itself so being named state champion was like a dream come true.
How do you imagine poetry will be a part of your life going forward?
I hope to continue reciting poetry in the future. I also would like to continue writing my own poetry.
What advice would you offer to students who might want to get involved in POL?
POL is a wonderful opportunity to improve public speaking skills while indulging in the arts.
by Natasha Vargas
The Dams will break
The sea will churn
The land will quake
The trees will burn
The sky will fall
And that’s not all
For humans have not
Heeded nature’s call
It called for care
It called for love
It called from its core
To the heavens above
Yet humans did not
Heed the call for care
Nor the call for love
And because of this
All will despair
Punish us, Mother Nature will
And leave the earth