Kiya Brown ’21 Wins Poetry Out Loud Award

Earlier this spring, Kiya Brown ’21 won second place in the 2018 Tennessee Poetry Out Loud Competition in Nashville. The win came with a scholarship cash prize for her and a stipend for Hutchison from the National Endowment for the Arts for the purchase of poetry books and supplies. Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of poetry through a recitation competition in high schools across the country. It has grown to reach more than three million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state across the country. This year, Tennessee had nearly 3,000 students participate.
Brown discovered her love for poetry when she was trying to find a way to express herself. “Sometimes kids pick up sports, some kids pick up theater, but for me it was writing,” Brown said. “First I started with diaries and then I began writing stories and then I started looking at poetry, and that’s when I started writing it myself.”
But poetry was personal for Kiya. “It’s not that I’m shy; it’s just that I wrote it for myself.” She never considered performing it out loud until her teacher encouraged her to do so. She first performed a poem she wrote called “Don’t Touch My Hair” during convocation in middle school.
For the Poetry Out Loud competition, Brown had to choose from specific poems provided by the competition. She chose to perform “300 Goats” by Naomi Shihab Nye, “April Love” by Ernest Dowson, and “Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” by William Shakespeare.
“I wanted a good variety,” she added. “I had one that was kind of happy and about love, and one that was quirky and witty, and Shakespeare’s was easy to relate to. This particular sonnet really spoke to me, and I think it speaks to other people, because you can actually understand what he was saying and what he was talking about.”
She also decided on Shakespeare because she knew it was unexpected. She said that no one recited Shakespeare at the competition and that many people performed the same poems.

She did find memorizing the sonnet challenging. “His poem was the hardest to learn even though it was the shortest. When it’s a poem I have written, of course, it’s a lot easier, because I know what I’m thinking. But when you’re trying to memorize something that someone else wrote, you have to really get into their minds, and figure out what they were thinking when they wrote it to learn the poem, not just recite it. Recitation is one thing, but actually projecting the feeling of the poet is another.”

What she learned in the process about Shakespeare’s sonnet is, “If you actually take the time to break it down line by line and piece by piece, you can understand it on a deep level, because maybe I’m going through that or I have gone through that.”

Kiya still likes to write and perform her own work as well. “I try to write every day. It just depends on what I’m feeling, but often if I’m feeling one thing, I’ll write about something else.” She said she listens closely to friends and family members about their experiences, especially if she hasn’t had them, to try to convey those ideas. “I like realistic things that you can relate to in life. Something that is realistic to my audience.”

As for the performing part, she said, “Before I do it, I’m pretty nervous, but once I get out there, I just kind of forget everything and let it flow.” She does have one exception. She still gets nervous performing a poem in front of her family.

“I want to do more performances. I plan to go to Poetry Out Loud again. Performing poetry is like art to me... you know you draw something, you don’t want to just keep it in a box; you usually want to show it to people.” And, she added, the performance brings these poems to life. “Some people say that they’ve read my poems, but they never understood them until I performed them.”

She gives Hutchison credit. “I think Hutchison teaches you a lot about leadership and public speaking,” she said. “I have also learned how to express my opinions. Before, I was more of a behind-the-scenes type person, I never thought I’d be up close and personal with the crowd.”

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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.