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Zaida Polanco Takes Poetry Out Loud State Championship Title

By Eva Mandelbaum

White Plains High School junior Zaida Polanco has used nothing but her voice, passion, and feelings to once again wow the Poetry Out Loud judges. For the second year in a row, Zaida is the New York State champion and will get to compete in nationals against other talented youths from around the country. This prestigious accomplishment has taken plenty of hard work, emotion, and dedication.

According to the Poetry Out Loud website, “Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high school students across the country. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.”

Zaida has grown as a public speaker and poetry reader thanks to her experiences with Poetry Out Loud. “Starting as a freshman competing and losing in my first high school competition, it really motivated me to not only memorize my poems incessantly, but also choose poems that really spoke to me,” shared Zaida. “Come my sophomore year, with each round from high school, to county, to New York State, I think the main thing that kept me going was watching the other contestants pour their hearts out through their poems, further motivating me to do the same and bring my own authentic touch to my poems of choice. And now, as a junior, I couldn’t be more grateful for my growth.”

Zaida revealed that she’s shocked to have won the New York State Poetry Out Loud championship for the second year in a row. “With each competition I had set my mindset to accepting not winning and instead really rooting for all of the other students whose poem recitations were incredible,” she explained.

Zaida also humbly thanked her dad and creative writing teacher, Mr. Polanco, for helping her get to where she is now. “The person that inspires me the most is definitely my dad. As a little boy from the Bronx, climbing out with a master's degree in English and becoming an acclaimed teacher at White Plains High School, screenwriter, director, and actor in his own film called “Shadowlands” now on Amazon Prime, becoming advisor of our Songwriters club, and representative of so many other accolades, his success and perseverance in life has truly motivated me to also strive to be the best person that I can be in as many facets as possible.”

This year, Zaida won with the three poems: “El Olvidó” by Judith Ortiz Cofer, “No, I Wasn’t Meant To Love and Be Loved” by Mirza Asadulla Khan Ghalib, and “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Zaida explained the meaning behind each of these pieces, and what they mean to her.

“‘El Olvido’ is about a mother expressing her despair and disappointment with her child’s abandoning their Hispanic roots, culture, and heritage. This poem really resonated with me because as a Latina who’s not the best at the Spanish language, it’s easy to forget my roots. Even having a normal conversation with my Abuelita is difficult because we both speak in different languages. Despite this obstacle, we do connect on the language of love, which matters most.

‘No I Wasn’t Meant To Love and Be Loved’ is basically a constant questioning of one’s purpose and reason for being loved in life. His display of a roller coaster of emotions really resonated with my experiences with the ups and downs of loving and being loved.

‘Dirge Without Music’ is about the power of death and not resigning to it despite that it will inevitably take us all someday. I’ve often pondered this existential question of the reason for living, and this poem has attributed to my revelation that despite how death is inevitable, we must fight till our very last breath to leave this world in a better state than it was when we entered it.”

Poetry Out Loud is not just an award for Zaida, but it is a way for her to express herself. “As a professional actor outside of school, reciting poetry is another way for me to express my deepest desires, angst, and overall emotions on relationships, existentialism, and other real-life problems,” she explained. “I decided to start competing because of my affinity for the art of expression. As an actor, I’ve always felt most comfortable on stage, pouring my heart out either through music, dance, acting, or poetry. Through this expression, I am able to paint a picture of my deepest desires through metaphors and similes, further enhancing the importance of it all.”

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