Art & Culture

Poetry Out Loud competition moves online

San Benito County high school students face off on Zoom; three move to the state contest in March.

Seven students from San Benito High School and Anzar High School competed in the Poetry Out Loud finals on Feb. 5. This year, rather than standing on a stage in front of a live audience, contestants met on Zoom and presented prerecorded recitations.

Each student read two poems, one of which appeared on the Zoom call: 

  • Angelo Hillstock, SBHS, Grade 10: “The Legend” by Garrett Hongo
  • Julia Magdei, SBHS, Grade 10: “Invictus” by Walter Ernest Henley
  • Kayla Salazar, SBHS, Grade 10: “To Have Without Holding” by Marge Piercy
  • Marissa Garcia, Anzar, Grade 12: “Domestic Situation” by Ernest Hilbert
  • Miguel Serrano, Anzar, Grade 11: “Ode to Solitude” by Alexander Pope
  • Nicholas Sepka, Anzar, Grade 12: “Full Moon” by Elanor Wylie
  • Xavier Guaracha, Anzar, Grade 12: “Lines Written in Early Spring” by William Wordsworth

Judges included Pamela Brown, an attorney and president of the San Benito County Arts Council board; Lou Spero, a fiction writer and former parole officer; Elena De Puerta, a counselor of San Andreas Continuation High School; and Chirstina Gomez, a board member of Youth Alliance.

Three San Benito High School students placed in the top three spots of the competition, with Magdei in third, Salazar in second, and Hillstock in first. They will compete at the state level competition in March. From there, the winner will move forward to the national contest.

Both Hillstock and Salazar were in last year’s Poetry Out Loud competition and discussed the difference between performing alone and before an audience. 

Hillstock told BenitoLink that recording his recitation was “a little weird this time around because it was just myself and last year it was the audience.” He said being able to do retakes helped reduce anxiety. He looks forward to the state contest and hopes to move forward to the nationals. 

Salazar, who took first place last year, said she was happy to compete again and that reciting poetry without an audience wasn’t that different from reading in front of people.

“Knowing in my head that people are going to see, it was very similar to performing in front of an audience,” she said.

Magdei had not taken part in the contest in previous years, but has performed for live audiences in the past. She said she missed the dynamic between the performer and audience.

“The audience changes your performance,” she said.

All three students expect to enter the competition again in 2022 and look forward to performing live again. 

Contest judge Spero said he was impressed with all contestants, and that each performed their poems and made them their own.

“I have an affection for words and have an interest in furthering people’s creative interests in all creative writing, poetry, prose, so it was important to do,” he said of his participation.


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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.