Alejandro “Alex” Campo, a junior at Flowery Branch High School, said he had never given much thought to poetry – not until an assignment in an American Literature class his sophomore year compelled him to take interest, if for nothing more than a good grade.
But, whereas some school assignments are completed and quickly forgotten, the poetry stuck with Campo. And it’s now earned him a cool $5,000.
Campo said reading notable works and learning to recite them as a kind of performance art made him realize the “true impact of poetry and what it can do for certain people to convey different aspects of the human experience that you don’t get in any other medium.”
So, Campo got involved competitively in poetry recitation, winning school, regional and state championships to earn his way to the 2019 Poetry Out Loud National Finals held April 30-May 1 in Washington, D.C. where he finished third.
Poetry Out Loud is a free national program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation that promotes works of classic and contemporary poetry through memorization and recitation.
Each contestant chose three poems from an approved list for their performances.
Campo said he selected “Undivided Attention” by Taylor Mali, “Dream Song 14” by John Berryman and “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.
“I felt that I could convey the true meaning of those poems through my voice and presence,” he said, adding that he practiced his style, tone and body language in front of a mirror to get his gestures and cadence just right.
Campo said he is drawn to poems that get to the emotional core of an issue. And the spoken word aspect gives poems new variety and interpretations for the individual listener, revealing new layers and meanings with each performance.
Campo has a natural voice for radio – clear-speaking, with a deep tone that can be at once evocative and calming.
“I’ve been told that by a lot of people,” he said. “My style is more bass, more brassy.”
During the competition, Campo advanced through multiple rounds against other state champions to become one of nine finalists, ultimately placing third and earning $5,000, which he said he intends to apply toward college.
Though he’s thought of studying health and medicine after he graduates high school, Campo said his newfound interest in poetry has opened new areas of interest, from politics to journalism to performance art.
“Writing and arts, in general, has definitely spawned” from it, Campo said.