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MHS senior to compete in state poetry competition

T-R PHOTO BY ANNA SHEARER Ashlyn Ruiz practices the poems she will perform at the state Poetry Out Loud competition on March 8.

Ashlyn Ruiz, a Marshalltown High School senior, will compete at the state Poetry Out Loud competition March 8 in Des Moines.

She will perform “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, “What You Have to Get Over” by Dick Allen and “El Olvido” by Judith Ortiz Cofer.

“‘The New Collosus’ is actually one of the first poems that I really connected with,” Ruiz said. “It’s a poem that I can read over and over and I still feel all the power. It holds a lot of power I guess, especially today with everything going on in politics and all that.”

Those who may not recognize the title “The New Colossus” will likely recognize its lines, which appear on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Emma Lazarus wrote the poem in 1883 to describe the U.S. as a welcoming place for all as a way to raise money for the construction of the Statue of Liberty.

T-R PHOTO BY ANNA SHEARER Gary Zmolek instructs MHS senior Ashlyn Ruiz on Thursday how to add gestures to her Poetry Out Loud performance.

Ruiz heard about Poetry Out Loud through some of her friends, who said that it was a great experience. As a participant in speech, the performance aspect appealed to her.

Ruiz also loves how poetry plays with language and allows her to express herself.

“I personally like words in general because they hold so much power and meaning. And in poetry you get to use them in so many different shapes and forms,” she said. “You just get to express how you’re feeling or who you are or what you believe in.”

Gary Zmolek, who coached individual speech for 35 years and was a judge at the local Poetry Out Loud competition for five years, serves as mentor for Marshalltown students competing in Poetry Out Loud.

Zmolek works with Ruiz on gestures, voice projection and where to put pauses and emphasis. Accuracy of the recitation is most important, however, as competitors lose a point from each judge for every word they miss.

Zmolek also wants to be sure nothing is forced about the performance but that it is natural.

He has a great passion for poetry and tries to watch the national competition every year.

“Poetry is a part of human experience,” Zmolek said. “It goes back to the origins of language. The first formal utterances that any human beings ever made were poetry. They were songs, they were chants, they were epics.”

Poetry Out Loud starts at the classroom level, then moves to a school-wide competition, state competition and finally to National Finals in Washington, D.C.

Ruiz tied for third place in the Marshalltown High School competition in December but was given the chance to go to the state competition after the other placers could not make it.

In the state competition, Ruiz will perform two poems before finding out if she is a finalist and will get to perform her last poem.

Zmolek believes she has a good chance.

“I think she has good presence. I think she has the intelligence, the sensitivity, and she’s willing to work hard,” he said.

Performers are judged on physical presence, voice articulation, appropriateness of dramaticization, level of difficulty, evidence of understanding and overall performance.

April is National Poetry Month and with its close arrival, Zmolek suggests his own version of “stop and smell the roses.”

“Stop and listen to the poems,” he said.

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Contact Anna Shearer at 641-753-6611 or ashearer@timesrepublican.com

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