NEA Arts Magazine

An Interview with Alanna Rivera

Poetry Out Loud Virginia State Champion


Alanna Rivera

2007 Poetry Out Loud Virginia State Champion Alanna Rivera. Photo by James Kegley.

Although seniors took the top prize in both the 2006 and 2007 Poetry Out Loud National Championships, the freshman and sophomore state champions proved themselves fierce competitors, including Washington-Lee High School sophomore Alanna Rivera, the third-place finalist. Rivera, who lives in Arlington, Virginia, spoke with the NEA about her participation in the program. Read the complete interview with Rivera in our Features section.

NEA: What's your favorite memory from the National Finals?

ALANNA RIVERA: My favorite memory from the National Finals was meeting Garrison Keillor. He inspired me to wear my favorite sneakers.

NEA: Has the program increased your interest in poetry or in performing?

RIVERA: When I was younger I used to write poems but was so unsatisfied that I sort of defenestrated poetry all together. I started out thinking that I was doing this all for the sake of performing, but I ended up reestablishing my relationship with poetry. I like it again, but I don't love it, because we still don't know each other that well.

NEA: Out of the three poems you recited at the National Finals, which one carries the most meaning for you?

RIVERA: "Conversation" by Ai carried the most meaning for me. I love that poem because when I read it for the first time, it was like listening to my voice for the first time. Even before I knew what it all meant I felt something, I saw mist and curiosity rising from the page, we began breathing the same air, and we were one. I will always love that poem, even if my relationship with poetry does not work out in the end.

NEA: You said in your Poetry Out Loud bio that you participate in jazz band and marching band. Did your knowledge of music affect the way you delivered the poems?

RIVERA: In jazz you learn the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the musicians, though sometimes it takes you a while to hear them. I think poetry is a lot like that. Reciting a poem is like a jazz solo: you're allowed to play your heart out, but you have to respect what the composer was feeling when he gave you those twelve or sixteen bars. You play for yourself, but you also play for the people who couldn't be there to voice their opinions, and you tell everybody what they had to say. My musical background helped me in understanding that I was no longer the musician, I was the musical instrument.