Littlejohn advances to state poetry contest

Four Haywood High School students silenced stage fright and bravely stood before peers and judges reciting 25 lines of poetry from memory. The January 27 event, Poetry Out Loud, was presented by the Tennessee Arts Commission and sponsored locally by the Brownsville Arts Counsil. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s event was limited to contestants, judges and sponsors.

High school junior Vanessa Littlejohn triumphed over her competitors scoring the top prize of $100 while also securing a spot in the next level of competition. Her poetic selection, Song in a Minor Key, is a rhymed stanza by Dorothy Parker. “I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be,” Vanessa said of the friendly competition. “Seeing others’ interpretation of their poems and how they acted on stage was super fun.” Vanessa will compete at the statewide virtual competition Friday, March 21. She deposited her winnings into a savings account sharing, “That’s what my grandfather would want me to do.”

Second place, with a $30 cash prize, was awarded to ninth-grader Martha Carpenter, who recited The Albatross by Charles Baudelaire. A first-timer to the competition, Martha admitted, “I was nervous all day long, but it was super fun to try something new.” When asked if she’d compete again next year, Martha answered without hesitation, “Most definitely!”

Third place was awarded to junior Ava Adams, who received $20 cash. Kairi Shepherd, a sophomore, received a gift card for fourth place. The local event was facilitated by English teacher Elizabeth Guth and Datris Cobb, HHS music instructor. Volunteer community judges were Sheronda Green, Sonia Outlaw-Clark and Shalondria Shaw.

The national recitation contest began in 2005 by the National Endowment for the Arts. According to its website, POL “helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.” Since inception, POL has grown to more than 4 million students and 65,000 teachers from 16,000 schools in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.

Pictured above L-R: HHS English teacher and event facilitator Elizabeth Guth, Martha Carpenter (2nd place), Ava Adams (3rd place), Vanessa Littlejohn (winner), Kairi Shepard (4th place), and arts council director Achana Jarrett.