What follows is my interview with Megan Kim about her experience with Poetry Out Loud and her own discoveries #becauseofartsed. You can learn more about Megan and some of Oregon’s other Poetry Out Loud alumni in a video produced by Oregon’s 2011 state winner, Nathaniel Dunaway. You can find more information about how to get involved in Poetry Out Loud at www.poetryoutloud.org.

What does it mean to you to have been a representative of the state of Oregon as a Poetry Out Loud contestant? 

Not only was it a huge honor to represent Oregon on the national stage, it was also a gift to me, especially because I never dreamed I’d get to where I did. I participated because it was something I loved, but I ended up becoming part of a beautiful community of people who showed kindness to me and inspired me. To be a state representative was to be a part of a valuable celebration of poetry and all it can do.

Now that the contest is over, what are some of your current goals?

My personal goals haven’t changed very much. I’m currently in my freshman year at Wheaton College, where I’m studying English with a Writing concentration. I’m not yet sure where I’ll end up career-wise. I’m leaning toward work in the publishing industry or for a nonprofit organization, but who knows where I’ll be in four years!

Thinking back on your experience with Poetry Out Loud, why are poems important, especially to today’s high school students?

You could get as many different answers on the importance of poetry as the number of people you ask, but one aspect of poetry I believe to be valuable is that it forces us to pay attention where we normally wouldn’t. It puts a pause on the world, taking moments we might pass over as insignificant and bringing them into focus, stirring the imagination for all that we tend to dismiss, cultivating a sense of immediacy and wonder and meaning. It asks questions and expects no answers. It is unafraid to deal with the unknown. Poetry Out Loud does this in a very public way, bringing poems into high schools, exposing large numbers of students to a wide variety of poetry, and in doing so, opening up their lives to all that it can offer. It encourages community among contestants and builds up confidence in participants, as they learn to identify with the poet’s words and discover the best way to share them with others. It connects at an intensely human level that transcends the words it relies upon. 

The poet Mary Oliver said it better than I ever could: “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” 

What was it that inspired you to compose your original poem, “Gorgon’s Lament,” and what was it like to be honored as the national runner up for that piece?

“Gorgon’s Lament” was inspired by a single-word prompt from my Creative Writing Club: bridge. I started thinking about the state of our country and how there is a rift between what we claim to stand for and what we actually are when it comes to equality. “Gorgon’s Lament,” though partly a product of my own environment growing up, is written with a larger voice. My hope is that any American (Asian American women in particular) who has been silenced or not taken seriously because of how they look or speak, or who feels—as I often do—like they don’t really belong anywhere, can read it and know that this is not the way it should be and also that they’re not alone in that feeling. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have received recognition for that poem, especially from a judge like Naomi Shihab Nye, whom I deeply respect. It’s humbling and encouraging to know my words can truly have an impact.

Speaking of impact, the theme for National Arts in Education week is #BecauseOfArtsEd. How has your life has been impacted by your experiences in the arts?

The arts have been essential in every stage of my life. Beyond being the outlet for my deeply ingrained need to create, the arts have given me some of my most treasured communities. The teachers and peers that the arts have brought into my life have shaped me in profound ways. For example, participating in theatre in middle school helped me come out of my shell and become more confident. And the band program at my high school was a place of refuge and family throughout the years. My experiences in the arts are some of my most memorable and growth-inducing.

Megan Kim is a poet and student from Ashland, Oregon. She represented her state at the 2017 Poetry Out Loud competition, where she was honored as the national runner up in the Poetry Ourselves original poem contest. A firm believer in the importance of the arts in education, she founded a literary magazine at her high school, entitled Spark. In addition to reading and writing, she likes to dance, sing, and play the flute. She is currently in Illinois studying English at Wheaton College and drinking copious amounts of tea. She loves metaphors, trees, and humans.

Deb Vaughn is a member of Americans for the Arts.