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2020 Poetry Out Loud State Champion: Erisan Awaya

2020 Poetry Out Loud State Champion: Erisan Awaya

As we near the end of National Poetry Month, we’d like to congratulate the 2020 Poetry Out Loud State Champion, Erisan Awaya! Erisan, a junior at MidPacific Institute, competed against 10 other state finalists at Tenney Theatre on March 1, 2020 and performed a final recitation of the poem “Golden Retrievals” by Mark Doty. (Click here to watch Erisan perform a recitation of this poem)

As part of her championship prize, Erisan was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to compete in the Poetry Out Loud national finals in April but, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Finals Competition was cancelled. Plans to showcase each state’s winners is forthcoming, but meanwhile, Erisan shared some insight with us about her experience with this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition.


Tell us how you got involved in this year's competition?

The first time I heard of this competition was in the 9th grade. I competed, and got second in our school competition, and then made it my goal to win a competition at least once in my high school career. This year, participating in the competition was not only a part of our acting class, but competing in it was highly encouraged by our acting teachers as well. Coming in second during my freshman year fueled my desire for a more successful outcome.

What was the inspiration behind the selection of each poem?

Because there were hundreds of poems to choose from, I told myself to find poems that drew me in by the first line. I chose "On Listening To Your Teacher Taking Attendance" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil because it was something that I was able to relate and connect strongly to. My second poem, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain (340)" by Emily Dickinson was actually the poem that used to compete in my freshman year. Not only did I choose this because I had a better understanding of it now, but also because I was intrigued by its complexity. My final poem, "Golden Retrievals" by Mark Doty, was chosen rather quickly. I was not aware that I needed a third poem when I was filling out the State POL form, and had to skim through many poems in a short amount of time. I ultimately chose this poem because it was told from the perspective of a dog (which was extremely interesting), and because I could really see myself experimenting with the text and eventually performing it onstage.

Having performed on stage both theatrically and musically, was it any different in how one prepares for reciting poetry on stage?

The process in preparing my poems was very similar to the steps I would normally take when preparing for a show. My coach, Mr. John Wat, was incredibly supportive throughout the entire process. Most of the prep was breaking down the text, analyzing it, finding moments I wanted to emphasize, and most importantly: repetition. The main difference/most challenging part, however, was getting used to the phrasing in poetry, and figuring out what the writer was intending to say while still creating my own meaning.

Besides school - what else are you doing to keep you busy during this time?

Most of my free time has been spent singing, watching Netflix, and practicing the guitar! I am also working on a project for school, where I will be writing and producing a song, which is something I am very excited for!

Thank you so much to Erisan for sharing with us and congratulations again! For additional information about Poetry Out Loud, visit