Congratulations to our 2017 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud Champion, Amos Koffa, a senior from Burlington County Institute of Technology, Medford Campus! Twelve students competed for the title of State Champion at the NJPOL State Finals on March 9th. Visit the NJPOL webpage to see video clips of our 2017 State Champion as well as all the students who participated! Amos will be representing New Jersey in the upcoming Poetry Out Loud National Finals, hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts.
How old are you? 18
What year in school? Senior, Class of 2017
Are you originally from NJ? I was born in Newark, NJ and stayed there until 10th grade. I’ve attended Arts High School and Science Park High School.
Tell me more about growing up – what were some of your favorite things to do? Drawing, writing poetry and watching television (Glee, The Fosters, and Degrassi) and listening to Beyoncé. I also enjoyed supporting my friends’ performances. Since I went to a performing arts school the students were super-talented. I loved seeing kids do what they love.
Any hobbies? Writing poetry, performing spoken word pieces, and being an LGBTQ+ activist.
What led you to poetry? In eighth grade I was voted “most poetic” for my class superlative. I was severely bullied in middle school and used poetry as a way to express myself. Even though I was not one of the popular kids every time I read a poem out loud everyone would listen and clap for me. This made me realize that poetry is my most effective method for communicating with people.
Where do you see yourself in a year? I will be in college. Rutgers New Brunswick
What goals do you have for the future? I am going to school to become a social worker. I would like to be a spoken word artist. I would like to release spoken word albums and become a big star. I want to be like Beyoncé.
Is there someone who inspires you? All of the notable LGBT+ figures that are erased from our history books. They inspire me to speak up when I see injustice, and to never give up.
Is there a teacher who inspires you? I think of television as being one of my greatest teachers. From TV I’ve learned about topics that were not discussed in school or in my own home. It allowed me to know that my identity was valid. It gave me an opportunity to see my story and learn about myself.
What brought to the Poetry Out Loud contest?
I was introduced to this competition in eighth grade. I attended Science Park High School and the middle school and high school were together. I watched the students perform in this competition and I knew I wanted to be a part of it, unfortunately, I was too young at the time. I always knew that I wanted to be on stage in front of people, but I didn’t know how. After watching the other students participate I knew that this would be my outlet.
What are your thoughts about being involved in Poetry Out Loud for the past three years?
I love it. I love being able to interact with new people. I don’t really fit in at my school and through Poetry Out Loud I was given the opportunity to make new friends. Also, I have a strong passion for performing poetry but the people around me do not. I am able to meet people that I share common interests with. This year I was very grateful to win the State Competition. I can’t afford to go on my senior trip and I am not attending prom, so Poetry Out Loud is my prom and senior trip. It’s basically the biggest memory I will take away after graduation. I also love the ability to go back and watch my past videos and see how much I have grown.
What are your favorite poems, and why?
Knock, Knock- Daniel Beaty: It is a spoken word piece that is not a part of the anthology, but it is a story I can relate to. I was lucky enough to be able to perform this poem at Yale University and it was the first time that I performed something that made people cry.
Ecology- Jack Collom: I’ve been performing it since I started with Poetry Out Loud. I believe it is one of the best poems in the anthology and one of the most fun. The language offers a lot of freedom with the interpretation. I am able to use my body and not just the words.
I Sit and Sew – Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson: This poem is very dramatic. Also the message is something I can relate to. It talks about wanting to do something important but constantly being told to stay in your place.
What are your thoughts on the potential defunding of Poetry Out Loud (and the National Endowment as a whole)?
I am very disappointed. Poetry Out Loud was something I looked forward to being a part of every year. It was one of the only ways I could express myself and be recognized for my talent. As I said before, Poetry Out Loud is my senior trip. It is also my sporting event, my extra-curricular activity, it is my prom, and it is my yearbook. I save all of the pictures from each year because I have participated in it so much. I share the videos with my friends and family. It is basically one of my only positive high school experiences.
If you could speak to save programs like this one, what would you say?
I would say that the arts are important. I think it’s our society’s responsibility to provide a diverse education. I am a strong advocate for an inclusive curriculum. I think that it’s important for students to see themselves reflected in lesson plans. Not everyone is the same, and arts education teaches us that it’s okay to be different. It allows students to excel. Not everyone is a mathematician or a writer. It provides more opportunities for students to see what their options are. It breaks the rule that everyone has to be normal. The arts provide inspiration, and without inspiration nothing that we have today would exist.
Poetry Out Loud Nationals begin on Tuesday, April 25th with a series of three Semifinal rounds. New Jersey’s State Champion, Amos Koffa, will be competing against 17 other State Champions from the greater Eastern seaboard region in the first Semifinal of the day, scheduled to begin at 9 AM on April 25th, 2017. After all three Semifinal rounds conclude, a total of nine students, three finalists from each Semifinal, will compete for the title of 2017 National Poetry Out Loud Champion at 7 PM on Wednesday, April 26th. All events will be webcast live on the Poetry Out Loud website.