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Rize Simmons (11) performs “Songs for the People” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper at the national Poetry Out Loud competition on Wednesday, May 1. He won the state competition on March 11, qualifying him for nationals in D.C. (James Kegley, Poetry Out Loud)

Rize Simmons wins state Poetry Out Loud Competition, performs at nationals

“I am the Smoke King … I am black!” “The Song of the Smoke” by W.E.B. Du Bois is the piece that Rize Simmons (11) chose to perform for the school Poetry Out Loud competition that moved everyone in the audience and helped Simmons win the competition, advancing him to state and later nationals. 

Poetry Out Loud is a national competition sponsored by the National Poetry Foundation where students perform memorized poems from the vast Poetry Out Loud anthology.

Simmons began Poetry Out Loud as a freshman in Kjersten Johnson’s (staff) English class where he was required to memorize a poem. Contrary to many of his fellow peers, he took a great liking to the competition and took it a step further by participating in the school competition. 

“I started Poetry Out Loud in Ms. Johnson’s class because it was an assignment that we had to do and I ended up really enjoying it. Freshman year I won the school competition and went to the state competition and placed third,” Simmons said. 

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After he started Poetry Out Loud, Simmons discovered a passion for poetry he didn’t know he had: “Performing that poetry made me feel empowered, so that’s what has helped me keep my drive and keep on doing Poetry Out Loud.”

Rize Simmons (11) performs with emotion that moves the crowd in the 2024 school Poetry Out Loud competition. This poem — “The Song of the Smoke” by W. E. B. Du Bois — was his favorite recitation out of the three he prepared for nationals. (Raven Bowman)

During Simmons’ sophomore year, he missed a couple of lines, sacrificing the victory, but this year Simmons moved everyone in the crowd with how he performed “The Song of the Smoke.” Johnson said, “Rize is especially good at hand gestures .… the way he changes his voice and his volume and his pacing throughout …. All of that has just really just added to an experience that is emotional for the audience member.”

For his poem this year, Simmons chose “The Song of the Smoke” by W.E.B. Du Bois because of what it meant to him and other African Americans. Simmons said, “For the school competition I did ‘The Song of the Smoke’ by W.E.B Du Bois. It’s like a black empowerment poem and those are usually the style I choose because I can relate to the black poets the most and it evokes the most emotion for me.” 

Rize’s other two poems performed at state and that he further honed for nationals were “Songs for the People” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and “Black Boys Play the Classics” by Toi Derricotte.

The Poetry Out Loud national competition is in Washington D.C. every year; this year the event spanned April 30-May 2. In order to prepare for nationals, Simmons put in a considerable amount of work to take his performance from “good to great.” Simmons said, “I have been working with Kerrie Joy, she was one of the judges at the state competition. Most Saturdays I’ve been working with her to help fine tune and polish those poems to make them the best they can be.” 

Simmons’ advisory teacher, Jerrod Griebel (staff), has not been as involved with Simmons’ preparation, but he is one of the teachers who has seen the preparation pay off: “He has grown much more confident and assured in who he is and in his speaking.” 

Before the state competition, Simmons asked many of the teachers from the English department to observe his performance. Griebel said, “Before going to state, he asked some of the English teachers to observe him during lunch one day and then we would give him some critical feedback. Then he would redo the performance with that feedback and try to familiarize himself with that feedback.” 

Rize Simmons (11) celebrates his experience at the Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C. Simmons didn’t place at nationals but represented Colorado well and is eager to improve for next year. (Kjersten Johnson )

At the national competition Simmons represented the state of Colorado as a competitor, but unfortunately he didn’t place this year. The winner of this year’s competition was Niveah Glover, a senior from the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, Florida. 

The loss was disappointing, but Simmons will receive feedback from the judges, which he is eager to see. After all, he’s already planning his next moves for his senior year.

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Tristyn Bruning
Tristyn Bruning, Co-Editor
Tristyn Bruning is a junior at Windsor High School, the co-editor of the newspaper, the design and photography editor for the yearbook and the varsity boys' soccer goalkeeper. He has great ambitions to earn an admission to the United States Naval Academy.
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    AvisMay 7, 2024 at 2:58 pm

    What a good opening!!!