By Tom Larson
Mary Hu didn't make the finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington D.C.
That didn't lessen the experience for the Morris Area High School student and Minnesota Poetry Out Loud champion.
"The whole idea is to create energy around poetry," Hu said. "One thing I thought was really interesting is that I met a lot of kids who are really interested in poetry. You don't get that too often."
Hu and advisor Dave Johnson stayed in downtown D.C. and experienced the historic city, with Mary taking a White House tour and eating a meal in the Senate building.
The two-day competition left little time for anything else. The 52 contestants were segmented into three regions, and read two of their three poems. The process took nine hours.
Hu read "Mrs. Krikorian," by Sharon Olds, "Bilingual/Bilingue," by Rhina P. Espaillat, and her third poem was "Hap," by Thomas Hardy.
Hu made it to the final eight in her region, but missed the top four, which would have put her into the final round of 12 competitors. She was in a tough region, however, Johnson said. Three of the four from Hu's region competition placed in the top five overall, and two from the region placed in the top three.
"She just missed but she did great," Johnson said. "She definitely had the toughest region to advance from. Mary easily could have made the final round."
As the Minnesota Poetry Out Loud champion, Hu received a membership at The Loft Literary Center, a $200 cash award, and an all expense paid trip to Washington for the national championship.
The Morris Area school district received a $500 stipend to purchase poetry books.
At the national level, $50,000 in scholarships and school prizes were awarded, including a $20,000 scholarship for the winner.
Nationally, about 200,000 compete in Poetry Out Loud, which is in its third year, and about 300 students from MAHS were involved in the program, Johnson said.
Hu said the best aspect of winning the state competition would be meeting others from around the country who also share a passion for poetry. She became friends with a competitor from Montana, and was intrigued by another contestant who she said had an obsession with the Edgar Alan Poe poem "Annabel Lee." He recited the poem several times in a variety of situations.
"It's not often," Johnson said, "that you see a 16-, 17-year-old kid from Arkansas reciting poetry in the subways in D.C."