Meziah Smith is a sophomore at Knightdale High School, in Wake County. She is a student, a reciter, and a poet, and will represent North Carolina in the national Poetry Out Loud semifinals, taking place on Sunday, May 2. She has been writing poetry since the seventh grade, and this is her second year participating in the Poetry Out Loud competition.
Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest is a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation that encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps high-school students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about writers past and present. This year Triad Stage hosted the state finals, which took place virtually. Students statewide submitted recordings of their recitations of classic and contemporary poems.
We asked North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green to pose some questions for Meziah to answer, so you can get to know this student ahead of her trip to the Poetry Out Loud semifinals. Tune in to the virtual broadcast and cheer for Meziah on the National Endowment for the Arts website at noon EDT on Sunday, May 2.
Tell us about yourself: where you live, where you attend school, any other things about you or your family that you’d like to share.
I live in the Knightdale area, where I attend school, as well. I live with my mom, dad, younger sister, and our family dog, Zeus.
What’s your favorite subject in school? What are your plans or dreams after high school graduation?
My favorite subject in school has always been history, especially world history. After I graduate, I would love to attend Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C.
What motivates or inspires you as a human being?
The people in my family have always been the biggest supporters of everything I do, and they encourage me to continue to do my best, because I know I have them in my corner.
What kinds of books do you read?
I absolutely love fantasy novels. I love seeing how authors create amazing worlds that seem so real.
Do you write poetry? Do you have favorite poets?
I have been writing poems since I was in the seventh grade, when I started trying to find ways to express my emotions. I find it hard to pick just one poet to call my favorite when they all seem so vastly unique in what they do.
What three writers or poets, living or dead, would you like to have lunch with? What would you ask them?
I would love to meet Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, and Phyllis Wheatley. The works that these women have written have been the foundation for my love of reading and writing. I would love to ask them how being a woman impacted how they write and how they saw writing during their time.
What motivated you to participate in Poetry Out Loud?
I competed in Poetry Out Loud last year, as a freshman, and I loved the energy and I loved how I felt, expressing myself. Unfortunately I did not make it into the finals for the state competition last year and I was determined to push myself this year.
What inspired you to select the poems you recited?
I loved how each of the poems I found was by a different, powerful African American woman, with her own story to tell. I wanted to show the different sides of being a black woman with my selection.
How did you prepare for the competition? Did you listen to any audio of the poets reading the poems in their own voices? Did your understanding of the poems instruct and guide your voice?
I spent my time preparing breathing in the poems, and I did research on the authors and their lives, to better understand the poems and the stories that the poems were telling. Understanding the poems and having a connection to the authors helped me get comfortable with the poems before I went on stage to perform them.
What was going through your mind while you were on stage? If you were nervous, you controlled it and it didn’t disrupt your presentation.
I love being on stage. However, even though I am used to performing, I get extremely nervous. It was easier to calm my nerves because my mom was there, and she has always been my role model and she keeps me at ease when I need her most.
What advice do you have for other Poetry Out Loud participants?
Have fun. Enjoying the stories that these authors tell is my favorite part of the experience, because performing the poems is like traveling to another world for just a brief moment. I say to other participants that basking in that moment is what makes the entire experience worthwhile, and good luck.
Please share with us what it means to you personally to represent the state of North Carolina at the national Poetry Out Loud competition or anything else you’d like to share.
I was born in Pennsylvania, but I have been here for almost 10 years. I call North Carolina home and being able to walk into this and represent the state that I love is such a crazy thing to even think about.
Jaki Shelton Green
When we think about how we love the world, we begin with poems of gratitude and hope.
Poetry lifts our sagging spirits.
Poetry demonstrates the wealth of the diversity of voices dwelling together and magnifying one another in all our differences; all our connections; all our good, bad, ugly; all of our beauty; and all of our tremendous humanity.
Poetry echoes our deepest experiences. Long before I was appointed the ninth Poet Laureate of
North Carolina, in 2018, I witnessed poetry transform Poetry Out Loud participants across our state.
I spent several years in the beginning of the North Carolina Poetry Out Loud program traveling the state—coaching students and providing training workshops for teachers, coaches, and judges. I was fortunate to witness strength emerge from fear as students stood up tall and proud in the spirit of honoring the words into which they were breathing life.
I closely watched shyness shift into confidence. I witnessed cockiness transition into compassionate listening for the mystery or the lesson inside the poet’s message.
From the mountains to the ocean, and all the counties in between, I am still witnessing the urgent and grand work of students who are becoming spoken-word powerhouses. Thank you for your writing genius and your love of poetry.
My message to you, as we near the close of National Poetry Month, is to continue to honor the weight of the stillness that sometimes complicates the meaning of a poem. Savor the confusion!
Honor the beautiful breath and breadth of your own commanding poetics!
Honor the emotions that poetry evokes inside of you!
Honor your brilliance and know that your recitations and love of poetry remind us over and over again that poetry springs from many unexpected convergences and infinite detail!
Happy National Poetry Month!
Jaki Shelton Green
North Carolina Poet Laureate