KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — An online charter student from Klamath Falls was chosen as the state's 2021 "Poetry Out Loud" champion this week, earning a spot in the national semifinals in May.
Tabarjah Neal is a senior at Oregon Charter Academy. After winning the school's competition for the second year in a row, Neal faced 11 other competitors in the state competition. She recited “Y2K” by Therese Lloyd, “Carnival” by Rebecca Lindenberg and “Bereavement” by William Lisle Bowles.
Though Neal qualified for the state competition in 2020, it was canceled due to COVID-19. This year, the competition was held virtually.
“I definitely cried a little, hyperventilated and had a small panic attack,” Neal said after finding out she won. “It was a pretty special moment, especially because I got to share it with my family.”
Neal said the main reason she signed up for Poetry Out Loud was because she had a fear of public speaking — one that she was determined to overcome.
“My mom said ‘the worst thing that could happen was you would win,’” she said. “I have gotten more comfortable with it and I have always enjoyed reading. My mom would read a lot of different poets to me growing up.”
Poetry Out Loud is a contest open to all Oregon high school students. It is a free program that encourages young performers to dive into American poetry through memorization and competitive performance.
The national semifinals will be held May 2 and the finals on May 27.