Hawaiʻi High School Student on Poetry & Politics in the Nation's Capital

Jun 2, 2017

Nicholas Amador performs at the 2017 Poetry Out Loud National Finals Competition.
Credit James Kegley / National Endowment for the Arts

A recent national poetry competition was set against the backdrop of political debates. President Trump’s proposed budget calls for cuts to agencies that fund the arts. Hawai’i high school student Nicholas Amador represented the state and reflects on poetry and politics in the nation’s capital. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this report.

AMADOR: “Ah, love, let us be true. To one another! For the world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new”

That’s Punahou High School junior Nicholas Amador reciting Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold at this year’s national Poetry Out Loud competition. This was Amador’s second year representing Hawaiʻi at the annual poetry recitation contest, but this year was different not least because of the political climate in Washington, D.C.

The 2017 Poetry Out Loud State Champions.
Credit James Kegley / National Endowment for the Arts

AMADOR: We actually got to have breakfast in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Capitol Building which was super neat, but at the same time everyone’s thinking about the proposed budget cuts.

Poetry Out Loud is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts that encourages high school students to cultivate an appreciation for poetry through memorization and performance.

AMADOR: Working so closely with the NEA at a time when the arts are in such peril is something that’s really special but at the same time is really kind of scary.

Amador was one of 53 finalists out of over 300,000 competitors from across the country. 

Nicholas Amador performs at the 2017 Poetry Out Loud National Finals Competition.
Credit James Kegley / National Endowment for the Arts

AMADOR: Poetry is always going to be for me…it’s a sanctuary, where you can take your mind off of everything else that is going on in your life.

For the competition, students select, memorize, and recite a set of three poems from an anthology of more than 900 classic and contemporary poems. And it’s all about the delivery. Here’s another excerpt from Amador’s Dover Beach performance.

AMADOR: “And we are here, as on a darkling plain. Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.” 

AMADOR:  I chose Dover Beach because that’s kind of the academic sort of archaic poem that provokes a lot of thought, and then I picked Lions by Sandra McPherson because that’s the humorous light one, and Windy City is kind of a perfect blend of the two. It’s wistful and kind of magical and musical. You have lines about saxophones. The author himself, Stuart Dybek is a saxophone player. As you’re reading it, you’re kind of hearing, “Oh, I would say it this way,” or “This makes me feel a certain way and I want to make people feel that way.” I kinda fell in love with it as I read it.

2017 Poetry Out Loud National Final Top Finishers: (L-R) Third place-winner Iree Mann, National Champion Samara Elán Huggins, and runner-up Nicholas Amador.
Credit James Kegley / National Endowment for the Arts

Amador placed second in the country this year and hopes to return next year. Poetry Out Loud has cultivated not just his appreciation for poetry but for the community built around it.  

AMADOR: While there’s so much, such a divide in our country. It’s really neat to be part of an experience where you have one person from every state. Even though people disagree on certain things, we all love poetry.

Nicholas Amador's FULL performance of Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold: