Vineland High School sophomore Najvir Dhinju won the 2021 “Poetry Out Loud” title last month after reciting the poems “Bright Copper Kettles” by Vijay Seshadri, “Beginning” by James Wright, and “Thoughtless Cruelty” by Charles Lamb during the school-level competition, which was held virtually this year due to the pandemic.
Dhinju was one of five 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 on March 16, according to Vanessa Rasmussen, Advanced Placement English teacher and department chairperson at the high school. The state competition will also be held virtually.
Dhinju chose his first two poems based on both his fondness for the poems and the mood they create, especially “Beginning” which is written in the first person. His favorite, however, was “Thoughtless Cruelty” which conveys an important message.
“‘Thoughtless Cruelty’ is very meaningful to me and holds an important message of not being heartless and careless about harmful actions,” Dhinju said. “The speaker talks to a certain ‘Robert’ who has just killed a fly, a product of Nature, without thinking about the action for a second. A certain piece that really stands out is, ‘A fly a little thing you rate...do not estimate a creature's pain by small or great; The greatest being can have but fibers, nerves, and flesh, and these the smallest ones possess…’ It doesn't matter how tough, strong, or resilient someone may seem to look on the outside - what matters is that anyone can have pain, feelings, and emotions on the inside. So, it is important to be responsible and think before you say or do something that may be seriously hurtful to someone else. Everyone has a right to feel good about themselves and feel that they have a place in this world.”
Now that Dhinju has solidified his place in the state competition, he has his sights set on the National Finals, which will also be held virtually instead of in-person in Washington, D.C. The dates for the finals have not been announced yet.
With the pandemic changing the way students have been learning for the part year, having the competitions held virtually did not faze him the way it may have for students in the past. He believes it actually became an advantage, as it allowed him to perfect his recitations without the pressure of being in front of a live crowd.
“I haven't competed in Poetry Out Loud before, so I don't really know how it feels to compete before a huge, live audience, but I can guess that it is overwhelmingly nerve-wracking,” he said. “So, I think competing virtually allowed for greater confidence and freedom when reciting because there is no intimidating crowd, and we were also allowed to record our recitations as many times as we needed.”
While that helped at the local level, he believes the state and national competitions may become more intense.
“For me personally, this really helped to build that confidence that I will eventually need for public speaking in the future,” he said. “Because we were allowed to recite at home, I think that the performances at the state level will be much more intense and full of sophistication. Everybody will bring their best foot forward, and I already can tell that it will be just that much more challenging to get to the National level. But at the end of the day, it's the poetry that matters. Regardless of whether I win or not, seeing how others interpreted and recited their poems will be very interesting and fun.”
Each of the students were judged by: Ms. Lindsay Thies, English Teacher; Mrs. Natalie Reynolds, Media Specialist; Ms. Robin Strong, English Teacher; Mrs. Vanessa Rasmussen, English Teacher and English Department Chairperson, Accuracy Judge; and Mrs. Lauren DeBello, Supervisor of Mathematics, Tally Judge. Scores were based on physical presence, articulation, performance and level of difficulty.
Also competing along with Dhinju were sophomores Hannah Rasmussen and Katherine Rasmussen, junior Yahira Cuevas, and senior Zara Elahi, who competed in her fourth competition this year.
“I am very proud of all of our students’ hard work, creativity, and insight,” Rasmussen said. “They have truly amazed me during our classroom competitions.”
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.