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Meet Langston Ward, 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Champion

On April 30, 2013, after approximately nine months of competition and more than 375,000 competitors, Langston Ward of Spokane, Washington's Meade High School took top honors as the 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Champion. This year, Ward, who was also Washington's 2012 state champ, wowed the judges---and the crowd---with recitations of "The Gift" by Li-Young Lee, "A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown" by Walt Whitman, and "The Bad Old Days" by Kenneth Rexroth. We teamed up with our colleagues at the Poetry Foundation to speak with the Harvard University-bound champ on the night of his win.

NEA: You’ve competed in Poetry Out Loud for several years. Why did you keep participating in the competition?

LANGSTON WARD: Mainly the poems that I was reading. I never read a lot of poetry before the competition but this was one of the best [things] I got from this…was reading great poetry. So, once I shared the first couple poems that I read and connected with, I had to do it again. And I found more of them.

The first poem that I really connected with was "I Am the People, the Mob" by Carl Sandburg. From then on, it was kind of an addiction.

POETRY FOUNDATION: What are some other poems you really like, or poets you like?

WARD: I'm a Carl Sanburg fan... [I also like] "Chicago," which I read about a year following. Beyond that, though, Sam Green---who was our first Washington poet laureate---I was introduced to him at the state competition this year, and I was really drawn to his work.

NEA: How did you select your poems for this year?

WARD: When I select poems, every year I try to read as many of them as possible. Typically, I read the first couple of lines, and if I'm curious as to what's going to come next, I'll keep reading…. When they connect with me, it's an instant, "I know this is the one. I know this is the one."

POETRY FOUNDATION: Do you share poetry with your friends or family?

WARD: Not really. This has kind of encouraged me to get more open about poetry with other people. This is the only format that I've really opened up with sharing poetry.

NEA: What do you think is the most important thing you've gotten out of being part of the competition?

WARD: I really appreciate poetry as an art form now….To me, it's the ideal form of writing and expression in writing…. Being able to form a connection with that is priceless.

NEA: If you weren't competing tonight, who do you think you would have voted for, and why?

WARD: I would have voted for [Josae Martin of] the Virgin Islands. All of her poems were really [great,] but her first one, I was really moved by that--- "The Bones of my Father."

POETRY FOUNDATION: What would you tell students interested in Poetry Out Loud who haven't yet participated?

WARD: Don't write it off just because it's poetry, or [because of] what you've heard about poetry, or as a theater thing. Give it a chance. There are over 700 poems in the database, and it's impossible for you to not find something that you can connect with and you can relate to.

POETRY FOUNDATION: How long do you think these poems or your interest in poetry in general, will stay with you?

WARD: For the rest of my life. That's a no-brainer for me. I still remember the poems I memorized as a sophomore, and last year's, and obviously this year's. Beyond that, I don't think this is ever going to go away from me.

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