Working Together for a Bright Future

Junior Jeremy Rasmussen wins 2019 Poetry Out Loud Competition

Vineland High School junior Jeremy Rasmussen earned his first “Poetry Out Loud” title on Wednesday after delivering heartfelt recitations of the poems “Watching the Perseids” by Isabel Rogers and “Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith during the school-level competition at VHS South.

Runner-up was James Virtucio, a junior.

Rasmussen and Virtucio were among 10 students from VHS North, South, and the Applied Math and Science Academy who vied for the top spot at the school and a chance to move on to the Region 2 competition Feb. 21 at the Appel Farm Arts & Music Center, according to Vanessa Rasmussen, Advanced Placement English teacher and department chairperson at the high school.

At the morning competition, the contestants performed on stage before an audience of fellow students from a several different level English classes.

Rasmussen reprised one of his poems from last year, “Watching the Perseids,” because of the impact it made on him.

“I chose ‘Watching the Perseids’ because it’s a philosophical look at life,” Rasmussen said. “I liked the mention of certain topics they bring up, like how we are clueless as a society until we look up and we realize that there’s so much more out there than what we already see.”

His second choice, “Not Waving but Drowning,” was a new addition this year, chosen because it was something he felt he and the author connected on.

“I chose it because even though it’s very short, it conveys a lot of emotion and it can be done in a lot of different ways,” he said. “Once I read it, I sort of imposed my own personal story onto it and then looked at what the author thought of it and it seemed to coincide.”

At the Regional and State levels, there are three rounds, so Rasmussen will add another poem to his repertoire. One of the poems must be pre-20th Century, and one must be 25 lines or fewer.

“I thought it was really great,” Vanessa Rasmussen said. “I thought this was a very tough field of kids. Last year we had a larger group, but this year everybody was really, really good.”

If Jeremy Rasmussen is unable to perform in the Region 2 competition, Virtucio will represent Vineland. Region 2 includes schools in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland Counties. Vineland has won this round of the competition the past four years.  

James Virtucio chose his poems – “All This and More” by Mary Karr and “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn – for very different reasons.

“My first poem, ‘All This and More,’ I thought was a very deep poem and overall, the meaning of it was very into the dark side, and his [the poet’s] reasons from turning away from that,” Virtucio said. “For ‘Cartoon Physics,’ I thought that was a very fun poem and I really enjoyed doing it, so I thought, why not do it?”

Both Rasmussen and Virtucio noted that their poems were their original choices for the competition. Virtucio devised a plan for memorizing his pair.

“I developed a little system,” he said. “I looked at the words and tried to memorize them phrase by phrase, but I also tried to get some pictures in my mind going with them. Not just because pictures help me memorize, but also to evoke certain emotions to make the audience feel a certain way.”

Rasmussen, however, had a much simpler answer.

“My mom is an English teacher, I had an advantage,” he joked.

Vanessa Rasmussen teared up when her son’s name was announced.

“I’m super proud of him, I’m super proud,” she said. “He’s been working really hard on it. We do hold practices, and he came to the practices. But I saw him at home running around, reciting his poems all night. It’s been fun.”

Each of the students were judged by: Nancy Hollenweger, Supervisor of Language Arts; Lauren Debello, Supervisor of Math, who served as tally judge; Lindsey Thies, English teacher, who served as Accuracy Judge; Kim Davila, English teacher; John McClain, English teacher; Noelle Patel, English teacher; and Jennifer Lanning, English Literacy Coach, who served as prompter. Scores were based on physical presence, articulation, performance and level of difficulty.

Besides Rasmussen and Virtucio, the other eight students who performed were: Zara Elahi, Anthony Jimenez, Beth Kraus, Marilynn Miguel, Alexandra Orihuela, Geovanni Perez, Andrew Rodriguez, and Francis Virtucio, winner of the last two competitions.

Before announcing the top five contestants, the audience engaged in an interactive recitation of the popular poem “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost. Over 20 students took the stage to recite the poem as a group.

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country. Participating teachers use the Poetry Out Loud toolkit to teach poetry recitation and run classroom competitions. Students select, memorize, and recite poems from an anthology of more than 700 classic and contemporary poems. The competition begins at the school level before advancing to regional and then state competitions. The winner of the state competition wins a trip to the National Finals in Washington, DC, where they have a shot at winning $20,000. Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state, Washington, DC, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Pictured (L-R): James Virtucio, runner-up; Vanessa Rasmussen, teacher and organizer of the competition; and Jeremy Rasmussen, winner

Please click on the following link for a gallery of photos from the event: