Poetry enthusiast conquers regionals
His deep voice and thoughtful manner give Wesley Thomas the appearance of someone older than his years.
The Quincy High School freshman, 15, competed like a veteran Feb. 3 to win the Poetry Out Loud regional title in Spokane. It qualifies Thomas to compete for the state title March 5 in Tacoma and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national competition.
“I think he’s a gifted speaker,” said Kathy Hardiman, the QHS Poetry Out Loud coordinator. “He’s not nervous and presents himself very well.”
Poetry Out Loud is a nationwide program that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition. Nearly 3 million students from more than 9,500 schools have taken part during the past 10 years.
Participants had to pick two poems to recite during the school and regional contests. For the state competition, they must memorize a third poem from a list of possible choices provided by contest officials.
Thomas performed “The Song of Smoke” by W.E.B. DuBose and “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allen Poe in the past contests. He hasn’t picked a third poem yet.
He chose “The Song of Smoke” because of its overall message.
“I saw that as a poem of identity, of knowing where you came from,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, he said the poem by Poe simply might have been intended to entertain without any specific message.
Thomas grew up in a home with few books, but said even as a young child he was reading two grade-levels above his current grade in school. He always had a larger vocabulary than other students his age, Thomas added.
Although just starting his high school years, he is already looking ahead to college and a career, saying, “I’m thinking of becoming a lawyer.”
Hardiman said Thomas has a quiet confidence that comes across during his readings.
“His voice set the whole mood” during the Poe poem, she said. “Everything is voice in this competition. It’s not about expressions.”
Thomas said the confidence is a gift from his grandmother.
“That’s how she raised me,” he said. “She said if you have confidence in yourself, other people will, too.”
This is the first year Quincy students have competed in Poetry Out Loud, with 11 taking part in the QHS contest. Hardiman anticipates more will sign up next year, given Thomas’ success.
“We’re looking really awesome so far,” she said.
— By Steve Kadel, firstname.lastname@example.org